Pike County News Watchman
The Piketon County News Watchman
Plant Workers Alleged Exposure Records Were Falsified
By VAN ROSE
PIKETON - Former workers at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon are accusing operators of the facility of altering radiation exposure documents.
An article in the Columbus Dispatch reported that Jeff Walburn, a 26-year employee at the facility, filed a lawsuit against Lockheed Martin, Lockheed Martin Utility Services and the United States Enrichment Corporation in 2000 for using "false and unreliable exposure readings to receive incentive payments for operating a safe work environment." Walburn's attorney, Steve J. Edwards, claims he has evidence that his client's records were altered. Walburn is not alone in his claim. Vina Colley, an electrician at the Portsmouth plant from 1980 to 1985, stated that despite the fact she was absent from her job in 1985 due to a work-related illness, documentation indicated that she had some of the highest radioactive exposure in her career during that period. She said plant operators have not only kept poor records but have been known to shred documents to conceal the amount of radiation employees were receiving.
Colley, who has been diagnosed with a destroyed immune system and other respiratory problems due to radiation and chemical exposure at the plant, does not qualify for a $150,000 lump sum payment under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000. She believes poor documentation would make dose reconstruction needed to obtain compensation through state programs a waste of time.
"DOE has admitted that their recordkeeping was inadequate," said Colley, "and the government has admitted to making us sick, so why are they going to use useless records to do dose reconstructions when we all know there is no way they can tell us how much radiation we worked in?"
Mike Tulloh, a uranium materials handler at the Portsmouth plant from 1975 to 1986, alleges that plant officials have a history of tampering with devices used to monitor radiation exposure. His job at the facility was to transfer and sample uranium hexafluoride into customer and government cylinders in areas where radiation was present.
"The contamination and radiation problems were so bad that the contractor removed radiation monitoring devices that notified workers of unacceptable levels of radiation and contamination," said Tulloh. "When you expose workers to deadly materials on a daily basis without their knowledge, deny them benefits when they become sick, lie about working conditions, and then pass ... legislation that just a few workers might qualify for, then what you have in legal terms is an 'intentional tort.'" The former plant worker claims to have spent 11 years of litigation involving two cases against U.S. Department of Energy contractors and won jury decisions in both of them. More action could be taken by past and present uranium workers if not for lack of media attention, he believes.
There are many more cases of falsification of radiation exposure documentation, explained Colley. She stated that it is, in fact, a national problem which plagues many other nuclear sites owned by DOE.
United States Enrichment Corporation Spokesperson Elizabeth Stuckle could not openly comment on allegations being made by former workers. She admitted that USEC has been aware of the legal action taken by Walburn but could not go into detail concerning the issue.
"We are studying the lawsuit," said Stuckle on Friday. DOE officials were unavailable for comment at press time.