One estimate puts the number of American thyroid cancer deaths tied to our decade-plus of above-ground nuclear testing at 49,000. University of Arizona economist Keith Meyers argues the number of deaths could be 14 times higher. Quartz shares the results of his study, which revolves around milk: specifically, the impact of the milk consumed by Americans that was produced by cows who were affected by radioactive fallout carried by winds from Nevada between 1951 to 1963. While the government ultimately acknowledged there were domestic victims of the nuclear program and paid them more than $2 billion, Meyers says the true toll is much larger: "between 395,000 and 695,000 excess deaths from 1951 to 1973."
Meyers took National Cancer Institute estimates for the deposition of the highly radioactive Iodine 131 and its estimates for I-131 "secreted in locally produced milk" and paired those figures with county-level mortality data. He asserts that "exposure to fallout through milk leads to immediate and sustained increases in the crude death rate." But his findings also buck conventional wisdom in that he found the "largest mortality effects" were seen in the Central Northwest and Great Plains. He explains that at the time, dairy farmers in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah imported their hay from elsewhere, which cut down on the presence of I-131, which has a very short half-life of 8 days. Meyers' bold conclusion: "The cumulative number of excess deaths attributable to these tests is comparable to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."