Worker health study underway; boxes of names found

MIDDLETOWN (AP) - The first day of tracking down former nuclear weapons workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant produced a valuable find.

Dr. Lar Fuortes, an epidemiologist leading a research team from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said more than 60 boxes of index cards found in the offices of the plant's current contractor contained names and employment information for former plant workers.

Fuortes said the cards found Tuesday in the offices of American Ordnance Co. may represent 20,000 to 40,000 people.

"It could be people who were doing construction and maintenance of the facility, where asbestosis could be an issue," he said. "It could be people who were exposed to high explosives, the things that went around the fissionable material. "It could be people exposed to radiation or to beryllium, or to epoxy or glues or solvents."

Researchers are trying to find workers who assembled and disassembled nuclear weapons from 1943 to 1975 at the plant, located about 10 miles west of Burlington.

During the past year, many IAAP workers or their families have claimed that exposure to hazardous materials caused lifelong illnesses and deaths.

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the university a $500,000 contract to begin what Fuortes calls a risk-assessment survey of former weapons workers. The goal is to determine the types of hazardous materials the workers may have been exposed to, the number of workers affected and to offer the workers health care guidelines.

The survey does not include payment for medical treatment or compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses, but it could help determine which former workers might be entitled to compensation under proposed federal legislation.

Earlier this year, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson met with former IAAP workers during a visit to Burlington and pledged to seek compensation for their illnesses.

Richardson later proposed a $500 million program that would compensate thousands of nuclear-weapons workers around the country.