2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: marylia@earthlink.net
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 11:03:02 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] DOE/sick nuclear workers
Hi peace and enviro colleagues. Here is an article I thought would be of
interest from our recent newsletter on the compensation proposed by DOE for
its sick workers. Peace, Marylia

Aid Pledged to Sick Workers

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' May 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson pledged his Department would reverse over
50 years of denial that it caused injury, illness and death amongst its
employees in U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and factories.

"Justice for nuclear weapons workers is finally happening. The government
is, for a change, on their side," Richardson proclaimed in an April 12th
press conference to announce his support for a new initiative to provide
compensation to some current and former workers exposed to toxic and
radioactive contaminants on the job.

Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels
said workers at Livermore Lab suffered exposures to plutonium, tritium,
beryllium and other deadly materials. These workers will be eligible to
file claims, he said.

Admitting responsibility is an historic first step in the long journey of
reparation, but there are serious limitations to the DOE compensation plan.
Justice for workers and others made sick by the bomb-building enterprise
remains a still-elusive glimmer.

The DOE proposes to grant only a small number of claims nationwide.
Michaels estimated that 3,000 workers would be eligible. He said there are
perhaps 1,500 workers with radiation-induced cancers, 750 cases of
beryllium disease and 750 workers with other illnesses caused by their

Despite pronouncements by Richardson and Michaels that their agency would
no longer battle and belittle the workers' claims, it is worth noting that
most of the injured will have to prove exposure to be eligible for
compensation. That will present a difficult if not impossible hurdle for

In some cases the workers' medical records are missing, in others their
files were altered after they became ill, leaving them without recourse to
even the state-run workers compensation programs. A number of Livermore
workers have spoken to us over the years about the "black holes" in the
official records, where information about exposure goes in - but nothing
comes out. We believe the problem to be widespread.

We also know of cases at Livermore and elsewhere where the workers were too
intimidated to report the exposure to their supervisors. One contractor who
experienced "flu-like symptoms" after becoming enveloped in toxic gas told
us he was afraid of losing his job. If they become ill as a result of their
exposures, these workers will likely not be able to get help.

DOE  knows that this is a problem. Michaels said that the agency would take
a sick worker's job description into account, but for most workers the
burden of proof still falls heavily on their shoulders.

Even in cases where exposure was severe and demonstrable, the worker's
eligibility hinges on whether he or she suffered the specific illness on
the DOE list for that contaminant. For example, a worker exposed to
beryllium dust who develops lung disease may be eligible, but the worker
standing next to him suffering the same exposure will not receive any
compensation if he becomes ill with cancer. While there is a strong
correlation between beryllium exposure and cancer, that disease is not on
the DOE list for that contaminant.

Moreover, the DOE initiative does not acknowledge or help the plight of
nuclear plant neighbors, some of whom suffered exposures as high as the

In Washington they call it the "Hanford mile," and many of its neighbors
have developed cancers and other rare diseases. In Livermore, a study by
the California state Department of Health Services found Lab workers
suffered a 400% increased incidence of malignant melanoma, a potentially
fatal form of skin cancer. The study correlated the increases in cancer
with five  workplace factors. In 1995, the state completed a thirty-year
study of Livermore's young  - and found that children who were born here
suffered a 640% increase in malignant melanoma. Children who were merely
moved here while young had a 240% increase. And the list goes on.

Under the Energy Department's plan, eligible workers, or their survivors,
could receive a lump-sum payment of $100,000. In other cases, sick workers
could get medical costs and lost wages, a package that could potentially
exceed $100,000.

DOE estimated it would need $120 million annually for the first three years
and then about $80 million a year after that. It is unclear as yet whether
Congress will appropriate those modest dollars.

The good news is that some who were made sick may receive  aid. As one ill
worker, retired from Livermore Lab told us, "I'm dying. I want to know that
my wife will have enough money to pay off my bills and to live."

The bad news is it is not enough. Not nearly enough.

If you or a family member may have a DOE job-related illness, you can call
a new toll-free number set up by the Department at (877) 447-9756. We at
Tri-Valley CAREs are compiling a data base of residents and workers who
believe their illnesses could be Lab related. Please call us at (925)

Marylia Kelley
Executive Director,
Tri-Valley CAREs
(Communities Against a Radioactive Environment)
2582 Old First Street
Livermore, CA 94550
Phone: 1-925-443-7148
Fax: 1-925-443-0177
Web site: http://www.igc.org/tvc

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