The Hanford Plaintiffs

Voices from the Fight for Atomic Justice

Trisha T. Pritikin
With an Introduction by Karen Dorn Steele
Foreword by Richard C. Eymann and Tom H. Foulds

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 assurances from the Atomic Energy Commission that the facility posed no threat. 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 class-action suit 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 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, who suffer from identical radiogenic diseases. 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 cost of one community’s struggle for justice, this book conveys in clear and urgent terms the damage done to ordinary Americans in the name of business, progress, and patriotism.

“The discussion of health effects from exposure to radioactive contaminants tends to focus on acute effects—cancers and death tolls. Pritikin shows in heart-breaking detail the stockpile of health problems from exposure to radioactivity and how painfully these chronic health problems dismantle lives. A passionate and carefully researched account of the failed fight for atomic justice.”

—Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters andManual for Survival: An Environmental History of the Chernobyl Disaster

“Given the current political climate—North Korea’s nuclear threat, the current US administration’s provocation of North Korea, the potential unraveling of Iran’s nuclear deal, and the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan—Trisha Pritikin’sThe Hanford Plaintiffsis a timely addition to literature that has addressed the health harm caused by radiation exposure downwind of weapons’ production and testing sites as well as from the use of nuclear weapons in warfare; from uranium mining, milling, or transport; from nuclear power plant accidents; and from leaking nuclear waste. Pritikin’s work stands out, not only in its description of the plight of the people—called downwinders—in and around the Hanford site but also in its disclosure of the callous disregard of the US government for the innocent citizens it was supposed to protect.”

—Yuki Miyamoto, PhD, associate professor of religious studies, DePaul University, and author of Beyond the Mushroom Cloud

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About the Author

Trisha T. Pritikin is a lawyer and president of the Board of Directors of Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE) Museum and Archives, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase public awareness of the human toll of exposure to ionizing radiation. She lives in Berkeley, California.