The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, November 02, 2002

Grand jury to probe plant
Focus placed on alleged pollution at DOE site

By Bill Bartleman

A federal grand jury apparently will investigate allegations that past operators of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant intentionally violated environmental laws while they operated the plant for the U.S. Department of Energy.

"The case has gone criminal," said Joe Egan, a Washington environmental lawyer who filed a whistleblower suit in 1999 alleging that Lockheed Martin Corp. filed false environmental reports when it operated the plant from 1982 to 92.

Egan said he learned late Thursday that subpoenas were being issued for a number of current and former workers who may have witnessed alleged violations of environmental laws.

Lockheed Martin has strongly denied the allegations.

Harold Hargan of Pulaski County, Ill., who worked at the plant for 39 years, said he was notified late Friday that he will receive a subpoena today to appear before the grand jury at the federal courthouse in Louisville at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

He said he was informed of the grand jury investigation in a telephone call from Andy Castro, who identified himself as a criminal investigator for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Hargan said that while working at the plant, he witnessed workers and supervisors diluting samples of chemicals and radionuclides for dumping purposes, leaving deteriorating drums of highly radioactive substances leaching into a ditch, handling a hazardous degreaser carelessly throughout the plant, and drinking on the job.

He said his complaints about such activity were ignored and that he often was chastised for raising his concerns. "It looks to me they are finally looking into what when on," Hargan said.

Since retiring, Hargan has been outspoken about former plant operations and has talked with federal investigators who have been looking into allegations made in the suits, including the one filed by Egan.

One of the people with whom Hargan met was Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Campbell, who on Friday would not comment on whether a grand jury is being impaneled to investigate the claims. He noted that it is the policy of the Department of Justice not to confirm nor deny whether investigations were in progress.

If a grand jury finds that environmental or other laws were violated at the plant, criminal charges could be filed against the plant operator or against managers who allowed the violations to take place.

Egan said he didn't know whether the criminal investigation would cause further delay of the lawsuit, but said that the investigation could proceed at the same time his suit is litigated.

Egan's suit received national attention, including numerous stories in The Washington Post. As a result, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson came to Paducah and admitted that workers in the past had been exposed to toxic chemicals that caused illness and death.

Congress then approved a compensation program to pay sick workers $150,000 each.

Bill McMurry, a Louisville attorney who has filed a separate class-action suit seeking $10 billion for workers who became ill because of contamination at the plant, said he also had been informed that a grand jury will launch a criminal investigation. He said he had a message from Castro and at least one former worker who has been ordered to appear before the grand jury.

McMurry said, "It is very refreshing that government officials are finally realizing the criminality of the conduct of those who have operated the plant."