‘Forgotten Downwinders’ in Mohave County have renewed hope after ‘Oppenheimer’

The new movie Oppenheimer has brought attention to the unrecognized Mohave County victims of nuclear testing, and they are hopeful about promising legislation.
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 4:06 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

KINGMAN, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - It’s been a long road to justice for cancer patients in northwestern Arizona contaminated with radiation from nuclear testing during the Cold War. Since Arizona’s Family first profiled “The Forgotten Downwinders” back in February of 2021, a number of those patients died without getting the recognition they fought for. Now, there is renewed attention on them after a major motion picture and promising legislation.

The blockbuster “Oppenheimer” detailed the nuclear arms race during WWII and recreated testing in Los Alamos, New Mexico. But the movie didn’t show the unintended consequences the testing had on its people. Radiation pushing downwind caused cancer for countless Americans who are now known as downwinders. “It’s been a never-ending stream of people getting cancer, dying that you know since then,” said Cullin Pattillo.

Victims of the testing were formally recognized and compensated by the government in the early 1990s with the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA, but certain areas like Mohave County weren’t included. “I think they’re all waiting for us to get elderly, die off and go away,” said Mohave County Supervisor and downwinder Jean Bishop. Bishop’s husband, Dan, who Arizona’s Family talked to in 2021, has since died. He battled cancer for years after watching mushroom clouds as a teenager. “I remember him with a smile,” said Jean Bishop.

Arizona’s Family also talked to Eddie Pattillo in 2021, who died, too. He had the same struggle against cancer after seeing nuclear testing from Kingman. His son Cullin Pattillo admired how he fought cancer. “At times, it was somewhat inspirational. He said, ‘I can’t do anything about getting cancer except for doing what the doctors told me to do.’ That’s what he did. He went on and lived his life,” said Cullin Pattillo.

Eddie Pattillo and Dan Bishop were never formally recognized as downwinders. “It’s a mere acknowledgment, ‘Hey, you’ve been wronged, and we apologize.’ The fact that Congress hasn’t seen fit to do this at this point, I’m hoping they will,” said Cullin Pattillo.

Now, Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley has passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would expand RECA into other parts of the country, including Mohave County. The “Forgotten Downwinders” struggle is not a studio-produced movie, but the decades-long plot of their story may have finally reached its climax. “It’s never too little, too late,” said Jean Bishop.

The amendment passed the Senate and awaits the House vote.