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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hanford ‘Downwinders’ Win 9th Circuit Victory

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A 9th Circuit ruling could expose former Hanford Nuclear Weapons Reservation contractors to hundreds of additional lawsuit filed by people who claimed to have developed health problems from living downwind of the nuclear site.

The amended opinion restores an award for nearly $320,000 to a woman who claimed her thyroid cancer was caused by radiation from the weapons reservation, a plutonium plant created in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

The federal government hired several contractors, including E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. and General Electric, to operate the Hanford Reservation in southeast Washington. Since 1990, more than 2,300 people have sued over health problems allegedly caused by emissions of iodine-131, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear weapons production.

After nearly two decades of litigation, the parties agreed to a bellwether trial to speed up a resolution. Only two plaintiffs, who suffered from cancer, won damages. The circuit reinstated the judgment for Gloria Wise, one of the six bellwether plaintiffs whose claims went to trial. A three-judge panel on Friday said the statute of limitations for individual claims had not expired.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs called the amended ruling a major victory for the so-called "downwinders."

"It now means that all the plaintiffs, if they can prove causation, can have their cases go to a jury trial," Spokane lawyer Richard Eymann told The Spokesman-Review.

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