Breaking News: The Green Run (1980s)

Narrator: The Atomic Energy Commission did
not warn the public about possible exposure to iodine-131 or other radioactive gases,
or about radionuclides in the Columbia River. Afterwards, many people reported mysterious
health complications. But because the Department of Energy did not
reveal the facts about Hanford’s radiation releases until 1986, it was decades after
the war before many people were accurately diagnosed. Interviews with Hanford area residents conducted
by Spokesman Review reporter Karen Dorn Steele in the mid-‘80s helped to uncover patterns
of cancer and other diseases common to the region. Karen Dorn Steele: We filed our FOIA request
and so did the Environmental Policy Institute of Washington, D.C. and HEAL, the Hanford
Education Action League. When we went into court, the government argued,
“Well, we can’t release these, because it might give away the secret of the bomb.” We said, “We’re not asking for the details
of how you make a bomb. We’re asking for the environmental monitoring
reports, which showed whether or not there were offsite releases or accidents onsite.” There was mounting public pressure to release
these documents. And so, six months later, in February of 1986,
they actually released them. I just thought logically it would be good
to start at the beginning with the ‘40s. We didn’t know at the time what even the
emission figures meant. All of a sudden, Tim Connor from the Hanford
Education Action League—we were sitting around a big table. He said, “Take a look at this.” It was the December 19, 1949 quarterly monitoring
report. When we looked inside, there was this graphic
of this huge plume of radioactive iodine that had spread throughout Richland, where the
scientists lived. Usually the dispersion stacks, 200-foot-tall
stacks, would disperse it away from the nuclear reservation. But the radiation fell on the reservation. It had plastered Walla Walla, it had spread
all the way to Spokane. It was stunning. June Casey had a pretty scary story. She had just transferred to Whitman College,
and she was a sophomore. And she was there during the Green Run, and
that was her first semester at Whitman. When she went home, she was from Oregon—Umatilla,
I believe—when she went home for Christmas, she was just exhausted. She could hardly get out of bed. And then, her hair started falling out in
huge clumps. She had long, curly brown hair. It never grew back. She didn’t know what it could be. It was a mystery, a medical mystery. Her parents, of course, were just really seriously
concerned for her. She didn’t know about the Green Run until
she read a story in 1988. It was two years after the original reporting. But she lived in Oakland, California, so she
saw a follow-up story on the Green Run. And, finally, she thought, “Maybe this is
what happened to me.” You know, it was dramatic.

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