Americans’ environmental anxieties were fueled by news reports of frequent aboveground nuclear bomb tests in the 1940s and 1950s, especially when a chemical element in fallout, strontium 90, was reported to lodge in the bones of mammals and cause cancer. Bomb tests in Nevada and the Soviet Union carried radioactive particles into the stratosphere, where they traveled in the jet stream and later rained down to become the first global pollutant. Residents of Nevada and Utah who received particularly heavy doses of fallout began referring to themselves as “downwinders.” Citizen groups, including the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Women Strike for Peace, responded with activism focused on nuclear testing’s threat to the environment and the body. Combined with increasing evidence that air pollution was also a carcinogen, the 1950s was a decade of increasing environmental awareness, anxiety, and activism.
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