The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, May 26, 2001

Rules issued for sick nuclear workers' payments
The publication means the Labor Department will begin accepting applications on July 31.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Proposed regulations for a compensation program for current and former workers at the nation's nuclear weapons facilities, including the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and the Honeywell Specialty Chemical Plant in Metropolis, Ill., were published Friday in the Federal Register.

Publication means that the U.S. Labor Department will start accepting applications on July 31.

"Our goal was to issue these proposed regulations as soon as possible, to start the process of collecting comments and allow us to begin processing claims when the statute becomes effective on July 31," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

"This is the first step of many toward implementing a very complicated compensation program. As part of our commitment to helping those workers who were harmed in service to our country, we want to make sure this program is launched correctly and on time."

The regulations include 95 pages giving details on issues ranging from what information will be included on claims forms to the process for appealing negative decisions.

On Thursday, the department will activate a toll-free number for affected workers and family members to call for information and request application forms. The number is 1-866-888-3322.

Also on Thursday, the information will show up at the Web site www.dol.gov, and will be updated as required.

Community meetings will be held throughout the nation beginning May 31. The Paducah meeting is expected to be held in mid-June. The department also is working to open resource centers in nine communities including Paducah. The centers will be run under the direction of the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The compensation program was approved by Congress in October to pay lump-sum payments of $150,000 to employees and certain survivors who are seriously ill because of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica while working in the nuclear weapons industry.

Workers at enrichment plants in Paducah and two other communities will receive benefits if they have documentation that they suffer from certain types of cancer. They will not have to prove that the cancer was a result of work-related exposure, only that they worked at the plant and that they have the disease.

The types of diseases are myeloma and lymphomas, and primary cancer of the thyroid, breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary or liver, and bone.

At other facilities, including the Honeywell plant, workers will receive benefits if they were subjected to specific amounts of exposure to cancer and other disease-causing contaminants.

A qualified survivor under this program is similar to other federal programs, such as Social Security. It includes a widow or widower and children who at the time of death were under 18, were over 18 but a student, or who were incapable of self-support. It also provides benefits for other relatives such as parents, brothers or sisters who were dependents of the worker at the time of the worker's death.

Interested parties can comment on the proposed regulations and request changes for 90 days. The address for filing comments is Shelby S. Hallmark, acting director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Room S-3524, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210.

The proposed regulations estimate that 70,000 claims will be filed each year from nuclear weapons plants across the country and that 11,000 claims will be approved. Preliminary estimates are that over the next four years, the program will cost almost $500 million to administer and that $1.8 billion in benefits will be paid.

Labor officials emphasize that it is important for sick workers to file as soon as possible because reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical costs will be made retroactive to the date the application is filed.