The Bush administration's attempt to cut funding was thwarted when the Senate passed a bill that included full funding of the early testing program.
By Bill Bartleman email@example.com
The Energy and Water Appropriations bill approved Wednesday by the Senate included $5.2 million to fund fully the testing program that began three years ago. The Bush administration had recommended only $1 million, which would have caused major reductions in testing.
The money will be used to operate a mobile health unit to screen current and former workers for lung cancer, according to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had the full funding added to the bill.
The mobile health unit travels among DOE sites in Paducah; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Richard Miller — a policy analyst for the Government Accountability Project, a Washington watchdog group — said the effort by McConnell saved a portion of the program for early screening of certain at-risk workers.
"An assistant secretary was interested in rolling the program back and not doing as much testing," Miller said. "They used the argument they didn't want to expose workers to an unnecessary dose of radiation" they would receive through the testing. He said there also were concerns about the trauma associated with false readings that would indicate early signs of cancer.
However, Miller said the radiation dose is small compared with the benefit of early detection of lung cancer. "The program detects early signs of lung cancer in which the cure rate is 70 to 80 percent," he said. To wait until after signs of cancer appear reduces the cure rate, he said.
Also, he said "false positive" results are less than 20 percent compared with 90 percent in testing for some other cancers.
Miller said the early testing program is voluntary and limited to those over 45 who worked in production areas and were smokers.
"It is very focused," he said. "I don't want to overstate the importance of what Sen. McConnell has done to fully fund the program, but it is fair to say that early intervention through testing saves lives."
Since the early cancer screening program began, 3,100 former and current workers have been tested at the three sites. Of that number, 14 have been determined to have primary lung cancer, according to a report prepared by Dr. Steven Markowitz of the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College in New York.
The report also said that about 30 percent of the workers will require follow-up testing to monitor suspicious findings.
McConnell said the health and safety of the workers at Paducah should be the government's first priority. "The workers deserve full access to early detection screening for lung cancer," he said. "This is an important step in recognizing the government’s responsibility to the Paducah work force."
He promised to continue working to see that the funds remain in the bill as it moves through a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences with a House version of the bill. Final passage is expected by the end of next week.