March 26, 2001
Dear Ms. Chao:
I am a 53-year old machinist at the Oak Ridge (TN) Y-12 National Security Complex, where I have been employed since 1968. I was diagnosed with Chronic Beryllium Disease in 1993, after several years' diagnosis with adult asthma. My condition is worsening, and varies from mild to quite severe. I have been quite active in the issues of beryllium and other health-altering contaminants in and around the Department of Energy sites. I have attended a number of DOE-sponsored health conferences as an affected worker, and found some surprising allies. I have been involved in the Energy Employees Illness Compensation Plan since its inception as simply a beryllium bill over two years ago. The series of DOE public meetings, and trips to Washington by ill present and former workers, such as myself, has brought fifty years of America's dark side to the public eye. Admission has been made that workers were unknowingly placed in harm's way. A bi-partisan compensation plan was offered by the Senate, almost destroyed by the House, and resulted in a bill which is quite unfair, but will at least help some of those who desperately need at least the very basics of medical assistance.
I have attended many meetings in the last year and a half, including public meetings, DOE conferences, lobbying efforts with Washington contacts, and any other attention we could draw to our plight. All of these exercises have insisted that the Department of Labor implement the proposed compensation plan. The Black Lung and Longshoremen's' compensation efforts have been used as comparison. All seemed to agree that this was the logical path to follow, including the Executive Order of December 7, 2000. To change direction at the eleventh hour will almost certainly cause more delay and confusion. Many of the ill workers may not survive to see the bickering resolved.
In your March 23, 2001, Federal News Service interview, you answer that there are "hundreds of thousands" of potential victims. With the information I have seen over the last year or so, this number is unrealistically high. Downwinders are also mentioned as comprising about half of this number. Downwinders are certainly an issue, and are as deserving as the workers, but this legislation is the "Energy Employees" compensation plan. The Downwinders' issues should be considered immediately, but are not addressed in the EEOICP. The May 31 deadline for having an implementation plan will probably not be met, but shifting the program to DOJ will guarantee delay. Also, the July deadline is the 31st, not the 1st, and is the date that the applications are to be ready, not a deadline for payment. This is an admittedly complicated legislation, as those of us who are depending on it know, all too well. We found even the legislators in support of the bill to have incomplete knowledge. Affected individuals and groups across the country have provided input, and are eager to do the same, to find some semblance of true justice.
We ask that the Department of Labor accept this challenge, and draw on the experience of the Cold War wounded who have lived the injustice for far too long. We are your best resource.
Glenn Bell, Y-12 Machinist, and CBD Victim