The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Paducahan among advocates named to board on sick workers
Ohio also will be represented on the advisory panel by the president of a nuclear workers' union.

By Nancy Zuckerbrod, Associated Press

WASHINGTON--Responding to concerns about the makeup of a panel advising the government on compensating sick nuclear weapons workers, the White House on Monday added worker advocates from Kentucky and Ohio to the group.

Leon Owens, president of a local workers’ union at the Energy Department’s uranium plant in Paducah, Ky., was added. And the administration appointed Mike Gibson, president of the union at the department’s Mound nuclear weapons plant in Miamisburg, Ohio.

Labor advocates had complained that they wanted more representatives on the panel, which will now have 13 members.

A law passed by Congress two years ago required the White House to appoint an advisory board that reflected ‘‘a balance of scientific, medical and worker perspectives.’’

Just one rank-and-file worker had previously been named. He is Richard Espinosa, a metal shop steward at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico.

‘‘I think the additional appointments today went a good ways toward leveling the playing field on the board,’’ said Gibson, who previously worked as an electrician at the Mound facility.

Owens, a former production worker at the Paducah plant, agreed.

‘‘I think that the workers deserve to have a voice,’’ Owens said.

After decades of denials, the government acknowledged in 1999 that workers who helped the Energy Department and its vendors build nuclear weapons during the Cold War probably got sick because of on-the-job exposure.

Congress subsequently passed a law providing medical care and payments of $150,000 to sick workers or their families for exposure to cancer-causing radiation, or silica and beryllium, which cause lung disease.

Many medical records are missing or incomplete, so the advisory board’s primary task is to help determine how much radiation workers were exposed to on the job.

If doses can’t be estimated, the panel will help decide whether certain workers should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Congress previously determined that many workers at the Paducah plant and uranium facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Piketon, Ohio, should be given the benefit of the doubt.