Articles ignore key facts about program for nuclear workers
I have been disturbed by NBC television reports and by Mr. Joe Walker's article in the Business section. These reports seem to ignore the facts of the disability benefits received by sick people who have worked in the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
The law passed by Congress, which has resulted in the payout of $154,000,000 over three years, does not specify that the illness for which compensation is paid be caused by exposure to high levels (or any level) of radiation or to toxic materials. The only requirement is that the person worked for the PGDP and developed one of the specified illnesses. They could have worked in the purchasing office outside the plant, in any office or maybe some area far from any process area. Therefore, to assume that the illnesses were caused by plant exposure is just that, an assumption, and to state that they were caused by such exposure is probably far from the truth.
This congressional action was, like many appropriations, a boon to the economy of a congressional district. Congressmen trade with each other to get dollars for their districts.
Undoubtedly, the Worker Health Screening Program has identified illnesses and cancer that would not otherwise been known. However, even with these additional findings, the level of such illnesses in the plant worker population appears to be no more than that of the general population. (A recommendation for an epidemiology study was not followed.)
There is another side to worker benefits — worker's compensation. This is a program usually paid through insurance companies and financed by insurance premiums paid by the companies operating in a particular industry. A claim for workmen's compensation must show that the injury or illness is a result of the occupational exposure. If the cause/effect relationship can be shown, the claim is approved even if the company says it was the employee's fault or that it was done on purpose. If this normal worker's compensation principle is applied to the thousands of claims that the Labor Department wants to take over from the DOE, then very few would be expected to be paid.
In summary, sick workers were and are being paid for working in the plant, not because such work made them ill. A claim for workmen's compensation normally requires evidence of a cause-effect relationship.
Richard C. Baker