By Bernice Gutierrez, Mary Martinez White, Paul Pino, and Tina Cordova
We are the downwinders of New Mexico, victims of the world’s first ever nuclear bomb explosion at the Trinity Site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. As an added assault on our health, we were also downwind of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. We ask you to support passage of amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) which will expand coverage to New Mexico and other forgotten downwinders across the American west and Guam. Currently the RECA only provides payments of restitution to a few counties in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
We are three Hispano cousins who have lost more than 50 family members to cancer. In relation to the Trinity bombing, we have endured a sickening spike in infant mortality, as well as highly increased exposures to toxic plutonium that rained down on New Mexico after the bomb was detonated. Now we are fighting for downwinder parity, and ask for your help.
— Bernice Gutierrez, Mary Martinez White, and Paul Pino, Steering Committee of The Tularosa Basin Downwinder’s Consortium.
The Trinity Site is often described as remote and uninhabited, yet there were families living as close as twelve miles from the bomb site and according to census data there were approximately 500,000 people living within a 150-mile radius of Trinity. In addition, 49,579 New Mexicans fought in World War II. New Mexico had the highest rate of military service and the highest proportion of fatalities among all the states in the U.S. Men were being killed on the battlefields while their families were being killed at home in New Mexico.
The bomb was incredibly inefficient and overpacked with 13 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, but only three pounds of the plutonium was fissioned. The remaining ten pounds ascended some 40,000 feet in the fireball created by the blast, and then fell from the sky blanketing New Mexico. Plutonium, the most dangerous substance known to humankind, has a half-life of more than 24,000 years.
The plutonium contaminated our soil, water, crops, livestock, grazing land, wildlife and people. Our water sources included rain barrels, cisterns, holding ponds, lakes, streams, and ditches. In July people would have been working outside most of the day. Unknowing, innocent victims were growing their own food, hunting, and working with livestock. Children were playing outside all day. No one was officially warned then, afterwards, or since, of the danger.
Our suffering is obscured on many levels. A heavily footnoted article by Kathleen M. Tucker and Robert Alvarez titled “Trinity: The Most Significant Hazard of the Entire Manhattan Project” in the July 15, 2019 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, reports a horrendous spike in infant deaths after Trinity. The infant mortality rate for 1945 in New Mexico was 100.8 per 1,000 live births, the highest in the country! Prior to 1945, the infant mortality rate had been on a 10-year decline.
Since the federal government refuses to study the deaths of our babies, we are forced to do it ourselves. We have researched available New Mexico death certificates and church records for 1945 and found that hundreds of babies died in 1945. In one instance, in Santa Rita Catholic church in Carrizozo, forty miles from ground zero, we found a 350% percent spike in infant mortality.
What you can do
Help us shine a light on this hidden history. Support the documentary “First We Bombed New Mexico” by Lois Lipman which is nearing distribution and still needs funds to complete. Please also plan to attend our art exhibit “Trinity, Legacies of Nuclear Testing” in Las Cruces, New Mexico July 15 to September 23, 2023. Stand with us in solidarity as we hold our annual Candlelight Vigil on the evening of July 15, 2023. If you cannot be with us in-person please place a luminaria at your home. As the government ignores us, we fear the upcoming movie, Oppenheimer, will ignore us as well. Through the film’s Facebook page, encourage the producers to add a clip of our history after their credit roll. And please encourage everyone to visit our web site at www.trinitydownwinders.com to keep track of our progress, and to make a donation.