Published in the time of COVID-19, The Hanford Plaintiffs speaks to an, in many ways, analogous time in history in which undetectable exposures (in this case, to low-dose ionizing radiation) downwind of nuclear weapons production and testing sites resulted in grave harm and, in many cases, death, to members of the public as the result of the failure by the US government to do the right thing.
For more than four decades beginning in 1944, the Hanford nuclear weapons facility in southeastern Washington State secretly blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest with low-dose ionizing radiation, the byproduct of plutonium production. For those who lived in the vicinity, many of them families of Hanford workers, the consequences soon became apparent as rates of illness and death steadily climbed- despite repeated reassurances from the Atomic Energy Commission that the facility posed no threat to the public. Trisha T. Pritikin, who has battled a lifetime of debilitating illness to become a lawyer and advocate for her fellow "downwinders," tells the devastating story of those who were harmed in Hanford's wake and, seeking answers and justice, were subjected to yet more suffering.
At the center of The Hanford Plaintiffs are the oral histories of twenty-four people who joined In re Hanford Nuclear Reservation litigation, the consolidated action that sought recognition of, and recompense for, the grievous injury knowingly caused by Hanford. Radioactive contamination of American communities was not uncommon during the wartime Manhattan Project, nor during the Cold War nuclear weapons buildup that followed. Pritikin interweaves the stories of people poisoned by Hanford with a parallel account of civilians downwind of the Nevada atomic test site, civilians who suffer from the identical radiogenic cancers and other diseases suffered by Hanford downwinders. Against the heartrending details of personal illness and loss and, ultimately, persistence in the face of a legal system that protects the government on all fronts and at all costs, The Hanford Plaintiffs draws a damning picture of the failure of the US Congress and the Judiciary to defend the American public and to adequately redress a catastrophic wrong. Documenting the legal, medical, and human costs of one community's struggle for justice, this book conveys in clear and urgent terms the damage done to ordinary American in the name of business, progress, and patriotism.
Published by the University Press of Kansas