Downwind indicates a direction in which the wind blows: toward or on the lee side. The term also holds a political meaning both in North America and abroad. Residents who live downwind from a factory or oil refinery often complain about the bad smells resulting from emissions and often assert that such emissions cause them to suffer from a variety of health problems, ranging from allergies and breathing difficulties to cancer and lung-related ailments and diseases. Factory emissions are not the only danger. A study conducted by an oncologist at the University of Bristol in Great Britain found that people living downwind of overhead power cables are more likely to develop lung cancer, accounting for perhaps three thousand premature deaths in Britain each year, more than from road accidents. Many people who feel they’ve become sick or poisoned because of their location, including those in northern Arizona and particularly southwestern Utah who lived near fallout from the nuclear testing in the southern Nevada desert, call themselves Down-winders. “The more I learn about what it means to be a ‘downwinder,’ the more questions I drown in,” writes Terry Tempest Williams in Refuge.

Jeffery Renard Allen