SPOKANE -- Home movies, diaries and personal medical records of people whose health may have been affected by Hanford nuclear reservation radioactive releases go on public display today.
The opening of the Hanford Health Information Archives marks the first time such personal information has been gathered in one place about people exposed to radiation releases from nuclear plants.
Gonzaga University, which already houses a repository of declassified Hanford historical documents, will sponsor the archives in its Foley Center Library.
"We're convinced there will be thousands of books written about the nuclear age and Hanford, but very few will be about the people who lived in the local sacrifice zone,' as one person put it," Judith Jurji, a founder and president of the Hanford Downwinders Coalition, said Tuesday.
As many as 2 million people in the Pacific Northwest who lived, worked or spent time downwind or downriver from Hanford potentially may have been exposed. Releases were heaviest between 1944 and 1972.
Hanford was established as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II to develop a nuclear bomb.
Despite numerous ongoing studies, a direct link has yet to be established between illnesses and Hanford releases.
Jurji, a Seattle resident who was born in Richland, where her father was a Hanford worker, is among thousands of Northwest residents who suspect their health was affected by accidental and intentional releases from Cold War plutonium production at the south-central Washington nuclear plant.
The idea of an archive for downwinders was raised when the coalition was being formed in 1988, Jurji said.
"We found that people were sending our group all kinds of amazing things; old Hanford memorabilia, poems they had written, personal accounts, medical information, old yearbooks and maps," Jurji said. "We were not soliciting this material. People really wanted to send it someplace."
More than 200 people already have contributed health and personal records to the archives, and more donations are being sought, Jurji said.
Among those who plan to donate are Trisha Pritikin, a Berkeley, Calif., attorney and occupational therapist who is co-chair of the network's advisory board.
Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, where her father also was a Hanford worker, Pritikin has a number of health problems, including thyroid disease, that she believes are caused by Hanford releases.
Her father recently died of a virulent form of thyroid cancer. His medical records will be sent to the archives, she said.
Downwinders "aren't going to be around much longer," Pritikin said. Contributing to the archives "helps give some control over the situation. At least our memories will remain."
Because the donations are voluntary, the medical records and personal anecdotes cannot be used as the basis of epidemiological research, but will give " a real interesting picture of what has happened to folks who lived in the downwind area between 1944 and 1972," Pritikin said.
The archives are funded by health agencies of the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho and associated Indian tribes through the Hanford Health Information Network.
Donors can choose to identify their records, or remain anonymous, Jurji and Pritikin said.
"In my case, and my family's case, there's a lot of comfort in knowing this story will be told to the future," Jurji said. "The human side of the story will be told."
Like letters to home written by Civil War soldiers, the archive materials can help tell a historical story that would otherwise be lost, Jurji said.
More than 3,000 people already have filed lawsuits against the government contractors who ran Hanford during the Cold War years. The complex series of lawsuits allege their health was adversely affected by Hanford releases.
None of the cases has yet reached trial.
"For a lot of people in that exposed population, we may or may not get any kind of justice at end, but there is that comfort that the world will know and get the human side of story," Jurji said. "This is the heart and soul of the Hanford story, not the technical side."