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U.S. to screen workers for radiation |
Friday, December 24, 1999
By James Bradshaw
The U.S. Department of Energy has reshuffled funds to make $3 million available to begin testing workers and former workers of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant for radiation exposure.
The expanded health screening for workers at the plant and facilities in Kentucky and Tennessee was threatened when Congress cut a $7 million request for worker testing, contending the department should pay for the efforts from its regular budget.
A senior adviser to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson confirmed yesterday that the $3 million will allow testing to begin in February.
"That covers the basic medical monitoring and health studies we were planning to do,'' said the adviser, who preferred not to be identified in news reports.
She said the department probably will seek the additional $4 million in a supplemental budget request to Congress in February or March. Most of that money would be for a "mass balance study'' to track the flow of radioactive materials into and out of the plants.
The $3 million basically will cover worker testing, she said. She said most will be screened by May, but because some retirees have moved and may be difficult to find, the program is scheduled to run through October 2001.
Test results will be made available to workers as they are finished rather than awaiting completion of the entire program, she said.
About 1,000 workers and another 1,000 former workers of the Ohio plant near Piketon will be tested, she said.
The health studies also include developing worker profiles to define precisely how much exposure was involved in specific jobs. Workers at a similar plant in Paducah, Ky., and a former uranium-enrichment facility in Tennessee also will be tested.
The tests have been sought since it was revealed last summer that workers at the plants were unwittingly exposed to high radiation levels from the 1950s to the 1970s.
U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, said it is welcome news that the testing will begin quickly. He said he disagreed with Republicans in Congress who cut the $7 million appropriation requested.
"In any event, I'm glad that they (department officials) have done this,'' Strickland said. "This money will make it possible to go ahead without delay.''
"My understanding is that about $1 million of the $3 million will be used to purchase medical equipment, primarily a CAT scan,and the rest will be used for the actual testing,'' Strickland said.
The screening is not a one-time program. "It will also involve follow-up evaluations as time passes throughout lives of these folks.''
Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch