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What is a downwinder?

Read Time: 3 minutes

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) was originally set to expire July 10, 2022. On June 7, 2022, the President of the United States extended the program for two more years.

Historic photo of military tests of nuclear devices at the federal Navada Test Site

A “downwinder” is a person who was exposed or presumed to be exposed to radiation from the explosion of nuclear devices at the federal Nevada Test Site. These nuclear tests took place in the 1950s and 1960s.

The radioactive materials released by these tests are called “fallout.” Winds carried the fallout hundreds of miles away from the test site. People living in the downwind area at the time of testing were exposed to varying levels of radiation. We now know that exposure to radioactive fallout may lead to certain types of cancer.

What areas are considered downwind?

Currently, the federal government considers these areas part of the downwinder zone:

  • Arizona counties: Apache, Coconino, Gila, a portion of Mohave County (north of the Grand Canyon), Navajo, and Yavapai
  • Nevada counties: Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, White Pine, and a portion of Clark
  • Utah counties: Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington, and Wayne

When were people exposed to fallout?

Currently, the federal government considers these timeframes as exposure periods:

  • Being physically present in a downwinder area for at least two years (24 consecutive or cumulative months) beginning January 21, 1951, and ending October 31, 1958
  • Being physically present at any place in the affected area for the entire, continuous period beginning June 30, 1962, and ending July 31, 1962

What types of cancers can downwinders develop?

Currently, the federal government considers these types of primary cancer to be related to radioactive fallout:

What if I or someone I love was a downwinder?

If you or a loved one meet the criteria of a downwinder, you may be eligible for cancer screenings. If you were a downwinder and also have been diagnosed with a type of cancer known to be related to radioactive fallout, you may also qualify for monetary compensation from the federal government.

Cancer Screenings for Downwinders

The federal Health Resources & Services Administration funds clinics in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. These clinics are part of the National Radiation Exposure Screening & Education Program. They offer cancer screenings to people exposed to radiation who are downwinders, participants at the nuclear test site in Nevada, uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters.

Find a radiation exposure cancer screening clinic in Utah.

Compensation for Downwinders

If you or a loved one were a downwinder, test site worker, or uranium miner and if you were diagnosed with one of the types of cancer related to radiation exposure listed above, you may be eligible for compensation from the federal government.

Congress established the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) as it exists now on July 10, 2000. The Act provides a lump sum monetary compensation for a person diagnosed with cancer (or their heir, if the person is deceased) who also meets one of these requirements:

  • Uranium miners, millers, and ore transporters: $100,000
  • On-site participants at atmospheric nuclear weapons test sites: $75,000
  • Downwinders: $50,000

RECA is set to expire July 10, 2024. Visit the RECA website to learn more, or contact the RECA Program:

U.S. Department of Justice
Radiation Exposure Compensation Program
P.O. Box 146
Ben Franklin Station
Washington, DC 20044-0146 | Telephone: 1-800-729-RECP (1-800-729-7327)


Cancer touches all of us.