The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Coverage for more illnesses from Paducah plant sought

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Although he knows his chances are slim, former Paducah uranium enrichment plant employee Don Throgmorton is trying to gather support to expand federal legislation to help sick nuclear workers.

He is circulating a petition seeking equal compensation for all people who got sick working at the Paducah plant. The petition claims that a 2001 law, compensating workers with specific plant-related illnesses, is discriminatory to others with incurable diseases that are not on the list.

"I've talked to a lot of people who have cancer, but it's not the right type of cancer because it isn't on the compensation list," Throgmorton said. "We want (lawmakers) to help people who are sick, period, from working at the plant."

He said letters from 1st District U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, described the current law as very difficult to develop. Whitfield did not offer encouragement for expanding the program. McConnell said he would debate changes if the opportunity presented itself.

"We may have to send this to Attorney General (John) Ashcroft," Throgmorton said.

The law was passed after months of congressional wrangling over many issues, such as which federal agency would oversee the program. It now rests with the Department of Labor.

Throgmorton first mentioned the petition in early March after an Ohio-based activist group gave the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Plant Act a D- grade, partly for being too narrow and providing too little compensation. The law provides a lump sum of $150,000 plus medical benefits to workers with specific cancers related to radiation exposure, and for beryllium- and silica-related diseases.

Throgmorton said Monday that he has revised the petition to be more specific and solicit current and former employees' names and plant badge numbers. He said the drive is separate from efforts of the Ohio group, headed by a former employee of the closed Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

"We've got to turn this into something where it can do the most good," he said, noting that people with diseases related to chemical and heavy metal exposure are excluded from compensation.

Throgmorton, who worked at the plant for 18 years, is disabled and has filed a Department of Labor claim, but conflicting results of several beryllium-disease tests cloud his chances of collecting. He said he has early-stage emphysema and a spot on one lung, which are signs of the disease.

He can be reached at 554-6638.