It was a headline in The Spokesman-Review that informed my family that both the bomb at Alamogordo and the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki contained plutonium produced at Hanford. That's how everybody - everybody in the whole world and everybody in our neighborhood - found out what was going on down there: from the newspaper, after the fact. People in all of eastern Washington took a certain pride in the part they had played in ending the war, assuming t
- Teri Hein, Atomic
Teri Hein was born to a life
of stability. She and her three sisters grew up on a wheat farm in
eastern Washington, on land that "in the history of time, had
changed hands only twice: stolen once (from the Indians) and sold
once (to my grandfather)."
But Hein was born in
1953, an unstable time for the atom. Ten years earlier, the federal
government had forced 1,200 landowners off their property to make
room for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, about 100 miles southwest
of the Hein homestead on Hangman Creek. Throughout the 1940s,
Hanford scientists released significant amounts of radioactive
iodine-131, and prevailing winds carried the waste to the Heins'
otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
wholesome childhood was marked by Flag Day celebrations and sibling
rivalry, it also bore grimmer memories: her father's brain
hemorrhage, a schoolmate's death from leukemia, a neighbor's death
from lupus. Seven of the 10 families in her neighborhood of
homesteads have been affected by various forms of cancer. One
family lost a father and two children.
Atomic Farmgirl, readers learn about the
illnesses and deaths as the Heins did. At first, the cases are
isolated incidents, tragedies that temporarily interrupt the
regular flow of farm life. It takes years for a pattern to become
apparent, and it takes even longer for the community to uncover a
connection with the mysterious federal facility down the road.
Though the book occasionally wanders, Hein's story is a powerful
one, and her wry, forthright voice and vivid memories make the tale