After years of study, the National Cancer Institute said Tuesday that some people probably got cancer from the radioactive fallout that wafted across New Mexico after the U.S. government detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. However, the exact number is unknown.
The institute disclosed its conclusions in a series of scientific papers on radiation doses and cancer risks resulting from the Trinity Test, which marked a key point in the once-secret Manhattan Project. The findings were published in the journal Health Physics.
Researchers say it’s impossible to know with certainty if New Mexico’s cancer rates changed in the first decades after the test, given the lack of comprehensive data. They did conclude that whatever excess cancer cases did arise would have been limited to those alive at the time of the blast and that effects on those born in subsequent years would be too small to expect any additional cases.
“The nuclear detonation exposed residents of New Mexico to varying levels of radiation from radioactive fallout, depending, in part, on where they lived in the state, how much time they spent inside protective structures in the immediate months after the test, and how much radiation entered their bodies through contaminated food and water,” a summary of the research states.
In the 75 years since then, some residents have been fighting for recognition from the government, saying generations of people have been dealing with effects from the blast.
The institute’s research comes as Congress considers legislation that would include the downwinders in New Mexico in a federal compensation program for people exposed to radiation released during atmospheric tests or employees in the uranium industry.