The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, April 15, 2004

Tests set for plant builders by DOE
DOE will set up an office in Paducah to track down and test the 29,000 workers who helped build the gaseous diffusion plant.

By Joe Walker

In the summer of 1953, just out of high school, Ken Coley helped bury a huge water line from the Ohio River to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Coley, who grew up in Paducah, was one of 29,000 construction workers nationwide who helped build the massive nuclear fuel plant. He returned in the early 1990s to install troughs to catch oil laced with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in some of the plant's most contaminated buildings, and again in the late 90s to run air lines for warning sirens.

Nearing age 70 and now living in Mayfield, Coley plans to participate in a new medical screening program for former Paducah plant construction workers, who were spread out among 14 unions. The program, which already tests current and former plant employees, was unveiled Wednesday afternoon at the West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council offices at 1930 N. 13th St.

"I have asbestosis, and it's only going to get worse," Coley said, noting shortness of breath when he exercises. "I don't know where I got it. I worked all over the country from south Florida to the Alaska pipeline."

The screenings start next month, and Coley hopes to take advantage of a lung CT scan made available to plant workers and construction workers. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the work will be done by a consortium led by the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Work-ups include medical and job history, blood tests, a chest X-ray and physical exam.

The office will be open weekdays. The toll-free information line is 888-464-0009. It has voice messaging.

Former construction workers at closed nuclear fuel plants in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Piketon, Ohio, had been tested. The oldest program, at Oak Ridge, has screened about 2,000 people since 1998. Of those, the average time worked at the Oak Ridge plant exceeded 16 years.

Among those working at the plant at least five years, 17 percent had cancer possibly linked to chemical and radiation exposure, and 57 percent had lung diseases such as asbestosis and chronic beryllium disease, said Dr. Eula Bingham, program director and environmental health professor at the medical center.

"Some people will come in who already know they have cancer," she said. "But they'll want to have that medical history taken."

Micheal Vaughn, president of the local trades council, said at least two former Paducah plant construction workers have received compensation from the U.S. Department of Labor for radiation-induced cancers. That program, separate from the Energy Department health screenings, pays $150,000 plus lifetime medical costs to people who have specific types of cancer or beryllium disease linked to plant work.

Information about the Department of Labor program is available by calling 534-0599. The local claims office is in Barkley Centre off Blandville Road.

"A lot of people who worked at the Paducah plant don't have anything wrong with them, but they want their work documented in case something happens," Vaughn said.

A big challenge in testing construction workers is finding them because they have moved from job to job during their lifetime and are growing old, Bingham said. Out of 8,000 workers identified in Oak Ridge six years ago, a third were dead, having worked at that plant from the 1960s to the 80s.

"A lot of the workers who worked here in the 1950s are going to be gone," she said.

The consortium will hire someone to staff the new office who it hopes has a construction background and can relate to workers. Bingham said another strategy is to locate older workers who remember early plant construction and would be willing to help coordinate screenings.