Some missing DOE health records found
Researcher says loss may be less serious

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

By Tim Jackson Of The Journal

ARCO DESERT - Recent loss of historical documents of value to ongoing Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory health studies appears less serious than originally feared, a key researcher said Monday.

During the past month, U.S. Department of Energy officials have retrieved or located at least 29 of the 62 boxes of relevant documents they and U.S. Centers for Disease Control researchers said workers at INEEL and other DOE sites might have mistakenly lost or destroyed.

"It looks like there are 33 boxes they can't find that are relevant to my studies that they think they'll be able to reconstitute, but they don't know that yet," said C.M. Wood, top health physicist for the radiation portion of the INEEL studies with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

"I have no idea what they're going to be able to do," Wood said of DOE's attempts to retrieve the rest of the documents. "No matter what they do at this point, there's always going to be a credibility problem."

Several boxes CDC researchers identified as relevant to the health studies were shipped back to INEEL workers who originated them before DOE recalled them.

Wood noted that "for conspiracy theorists," that might raise suspicions that radiation and chemical exposure records were - or could be - covered up.

"There's no way of knowing if a smoking gun was pulled from a box and the rest of the materials then placed back in the archives without it," said critic Chuck Brocious, a member of CDC's INEEL Health Effects Subcommittee.

DOE officials last year acknowledged that they had mistakenly lost track of some of the INEEL records health researchers had identified as having possible or definite use in the studies. "I can't defend what DOE did, but it's not as bad as it sounded," Wood said. "There might be some lingering credibility problems, but I don't see it as an issue."

Wood is technical advisor to CDC's ongoing multi-million-dollar, taxpayer- funded examination of whether anyone who worked at or lived near the Arco Desert nuclear site in the past 50 years received harmful doses of radiation or hazardous chemicals.

Former governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus pushed for the studies.

Within four months, contract researchers plan to complete reports listing the radiation and chemical releases CDC should study in depth for possible impacts on human health and whether enough records are available to do complete studies, Wood said. On March 17, DOE officials plan to offer more information about the document loss problem to the Health Effects Subcommittee when it meets in Idaho Falls.

Tim Jackson covers the environment and INEEL for the Journal. He can be reached by phone at 232-4161, Ext. 282, or e-mail at tjackson@journalnet.com