The National Cancer Institute later this month will begin interviewing Native and Hispanic New Mexicans in a survey designed to fill in a major historical gap of the nuclear age — possible health effects of the first detonation of a nuclear device on July 16, 1945.
Communications manager and project investigator Jennifer Loukissas noted that the Trinity Site blast in Southern New Mexico marked the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, just three weeks before the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Since then, she said, atomic scientists around the world have asked: “How come you Americans haven’t investigated Trinity?”
Residents in communities near the Trinity Site, on what is now the White Sands Missile Range about 80 miles north of Alamogordo, have charged in recent years that entire families have been wiped out by cancers and other illnesses caused by the Trinity detonation — specifically from eating contaminated crops and livestock and drinking radiation-tainted water. They also fear that because of radiation-altered DNA, the illnesses and deaths have now jumped to the second and third generations.
In this pilot phase of the New Mexico study, National Cancer Institute researchers will fan out in eight communities across New Mexico from Sept. 24 to Sept. 30 in an attempt to interview nine Native American and Hispanic New Mexicans who were over the age of 5 at the time of the Trinity explosion. Loukissas said the most reliable reporting comes from those who were old enough at the time to be familiar with the dietary and living habits of their younger siblings and other relatives they might have been helping to care for.
Protocols for the study were influenced greatly by input from two groups, Loukissas said: The Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium and a Native women’s nuclear-issues advocacy group, Las Mujeres Hablan.
Loukissas said the two groups have helped the institute secure support for the study, raise awareness of cultural sensitivities and obtain information about New Mexico lifestyles in general. “It’s been a tremendous collaboration.”
Marian Naranjo, a resident of Santa Clara Pueblo and a founder of Las Mujeres Hablan, said she is hopeful but somewhat skeptical that the study can accomplish its goal.
“Finally something that we have been working on since 1998 is coming to a fruitfulness in that the government is finally doing something.” However, she said, the researchers, based in Maryland, “have no idea of the uniqueness of New Mexico with all the sovereign nations that reside here and all the protocols that are necessary to work with Native people.”