A Paducahan is among those who get no response in the backlog of cases on nuclear plant toxins.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
The delays contrast a Department of Labor program that nationwide has paid more than 10,000 claims totaling $657 million in cash and $18 million in medical bills. More than 1,000 claims exceeding $119 million have been paid on behalf of Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant workers.
Robert Pierce, a former Paducah plant employee whose claim for larynx cancer was denied because of a quirk in the Labor Department program, has been trying to get help through the Energy Department. He has called a DOE hot line unsuccessfully the past four Mondays, trying to get a status report.
"They keep saying they'll call me that day or the next day, and as of today it's been four weeks," he said Monday. "I've not even gotten a response. It's very frustrating."
Pierce knows of seven former Paducah plant workers with his type of cancer. Four others who worked with him have developed other malignancies.
"It's concerning to me that time is running out," Pierce said. "You've got people getting cancer, and you don't know what the future has in store for them."
U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, who represents current and former workers at Paducah's closed sister plant in Piketon, Ohio, has asked the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate the backlog. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, a committee member who has a bill pending to fix the problem, said he supports Strickland and will ask committee Chairman Billy Tauzin to schedule a hearing.
Strickland said DOE is "failing in its responsibility" to help the workers. A physicians' panel has heard only 74 of nearly 19,000 claims, approving 45 for payment.
But the program has no teeth because insurers can't be forced to pay, Whitfield said. His bill to have the Labor Department pay claims has been overshadowed by legislation on Iraq and Iran, homeland security, prescription drugs and other legislation.
The 2000 law provides for $150,000 lump-sum payments from the Labor Department and free medical care to enrichment workers who have chronic beryllium disease, silicosis or 22 specified cancers associated with radiation exposure. Some argue that the list of qualifying diseases should be expanded.
Pierce's claim was denied because his cancer is similar but not identical to other cancers on the qualification list. He has sought a reconstruction of work exposure to radiation and toxins, which might support his effort to get the $150,000. Pierce also has a claim before DOE to qualify for workers' compensation.
"When I first filed, I sent in the names of six witnesses who worked with me at the plant," he said. "Two of the six already had cancer, and since I mailed the list off (in January), two more have been diagnosed with it."
Pierce recently received job-exposure records showing his urine had elevated levels of uranium 17 times in five years, and at least once had traces of neptunium, a highly radioactive element. He said he was unaware of the problems and now knows he was also exposed to various harmful chemicals.
Union leaders support Whitfield's bill and similar legislation in the Senate, said Leon Owens, president of the Paducah energy workers' local.
"We've had this concern ever since the program's inception, particularly as it relates to DOE's lack of understanding of the problem," he said. "The results speak for themselves."
Last month, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham received a sharply critical letter from James Conrad, administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation under Republican Gov. Bob Taft. Conrad said it will take three years to meet an Energy Department goal of clearing 100 claims weekly and his "overall concern about the program grows with each passing day."
The phone number for the Department of Labor claims center on Blandville Road is 534-0599. The number for the Energy Department's toll-free claims hot line is .
Addendum: Wednesday, February 08, 2006
During a recent visit to your website, we found a reference to the former Department of Energy's EEOICPA Program Toll-Free Hotline. The reference was found on the following webpage:
This program has been transferred to the Department of Labor. The listed number has been disconnected and recycled by the vendor (MCI) to another client. Please remove this number as it is no longer valid.
The DOL toll free number for assistance with this program is 1-866-888-3322. Please make a note of this on the above referenced webpage at your earliest opportunity so that program applicants and interested parties can be directed to the appropriate resources.