The department is expanding screenings to all former workers exposed to hazardous or radioactive substances at the Paducah plant.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
The Department of Energy made the announcement Tuesday, formalizing a development revealed by agency officials to the Kentucky congressional delegation earlier this month. U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate, broke the news then, but DOE officials declined comment.
The department is expanding screenings to all former workers exposed to hazardous or radioactive substances at the Paducah plant, as well as at DOE-owned plants in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Piketon, Ohio. Screenings are expected to start by fall. Previously, only former plant production workers in Paducah and Piketon were eligible, although construction workers at three DOE plants in Oak Ridge were included.
"Expanding our medical screening program is the right thing to do," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "The department will help workers at the sites by identifying potential exposures, providing medical screening and, if deemed appropriate, referral to health specialists to ensure they receive the medical attention they deserve."
The screening is a joint effort of the University of Cincinnati and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union. The Energy Department has given PACE $300,000 and the university $128,000 for the additional work, which starts by assessing historic plant operations and potential work-related hazards.
The expansion potentially involves more than 30,000 people who were involved in construction projects during the 50-year history of the Paducah plant. Leon Owens, president of the PACE Local 5-550 in Paducah, said many of those worked for the old F.H. McGraw Co., which built the plant.
He credited federal lawmakers from Kentucky for their role in the expansion. Like enrichment plant employees, construction workers "were put in harm's way unknowingly," he said. "We're very pleased to receive this announcement."
According to DOE, former Paducah workers may call 513-558-1843 or log on to www.eh.doe.gov/health for information.
Expanded medical screenings are part of the Former Workers Program, established in response to 1993 legislation. They are not a part of the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which provides $150,000 lump-sum payments to people with specified diseases related to enrichment plant exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica.
The cancer screening involves a specialized CT scan in a mobile unit that makes periodic visits to Paducah. It is at the union hall on Cairo Road this week. The scan can detect tiny nodules invisible in other tests.
The screening also involves a hearing test, breathing test and other exams. Bunning said earlier that DOE decided to expand screening because of problems detected in construction workers in Tennessee.