On January 11, 2019 an intimate group of students, professors, and community members met in the Valley Library to listen to an oral history interview of Downwinder, Trisha Pritikin, which was facilitated by Dr. Jacob Hamblin.
Pritikin was being interviewed as part of a National Science Foundation grant through Oregon State University to understand the history of the Dose Reconstruction Project at the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington State through the stories of those who lived and worked at Hanford during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Pritikin was born in October 1950 in Richland, Washington near the Hanford Nuclear site at a time of historically high radiation exposure. As a result of this, she was exposed in utero to low doses of ionizing radiation, primarily from radioiodine and cobalt. But because of the latency effect of these exposures, she was mostly unaffected by ill health during her childhood, and actually remembers her childhood as nearly idyllic. But there were signs of health problems to come, her brother died shortly after birth from an undiagnosed ailment (Pritikin suspects it was leukemia), and she was born with knobby malformed knees which have plagued her her whole life.
When Pritikin was in college, all of the lasting effects of the radiation exposure that she was exposed to as a child began to foment. After a dizzying number of years in pain and suffering through numerous maladies, Pritikin was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, a common autoimmune disease suffered by many Downwinders, which led to the eventual removal of her thyroid and 3 out of 4 of her parathyroid glands. Despite her illness, and the lasting effects of having her thyroid and parathyroid glands removed, Pritikin graduated from college, completed a master’s degree, and went to law school where she passed the bar after graduating from UC Hastings in 1983.
Pritikin’s diagnosis led her down a path of discovery for the root cause of her ailments. Soon she learned that her illness was caused by her radiation exposure from when she lived at Hanford as a child. She began to connect with others who were also affected. And most importantly, she began to be an advocate for all Downwinders. As part of her advocacy, in 1988 Pritikin was elected to the Hanford Health Effects Subcommittee where she helped to advocate for medical monitoring of Downwinders. Additionally, Pritikin has been a part of the legal battles that the Downwinders have gone through. Currently, Pritikin spends most of her time with the non-profit, Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE), which she founded.
Throughout the interview, Pritikin continued to comment that despite the fact that her life has been quite negatively affected by radiation exposure (not only has Pritikin been affected, but both of her children suffer from effects due to radiation; her father died of thyroid cancer; and her mother died from cancer), her story is unfortunately not unique. Today, according to Pritikin, much of the attention surrounding Hanford is on the state of the physical site itself, but not on the people, and she wants that to change.
For Pritikin, even though her story sometimes feels like it is something out of science fiction, it is real, and she doesn’t want her story, and the others like it to be forgotten. She wants the stories of the Downwinders to endure. and for future generations to get involved and take interest.
For all present at the interview, no one will be able forget Pritikin’s story, and hopefully her story will serve to help future generations to get involved and take interest in the Downwinders.