Thursday, February 24,
Wastes & Hazardous
DOE to start testing for
former contractors for beryllium disease
The Energy Department said yesterday
it will pay to test more than 28,000 former nuclear weapons manufacturing
workers and contractors for beryllium disease, broadening a program that
the agency has offered to its own contract employees since 1991.
The $3.5 million program expansion
will allow the employees of 24 companies that had contracts with the
government during the Cold War to get tested for the potentially fatal
disease, which affects the lungs and is caused by inhaling beryllium
dust, a light, heat-resistant metal used in nuclear reactors and
DOE spokesman Mike Wharton said the
agency does not know how many of the 30,000 people are still alive nor
how many might be suffering from the disease. Beryllium sensitivity
symptoms can take up to 30 years to develop.
"You can get this test paid for
as a first step toward accessing the government's workers' compensation
program," said Wharton. "The President and [Energy] Secretary
Samuel W. Bodman are committed to the department's former workers. We are
helping to fulfill a commitment made to them long ago".
Prior to yesterday's announcement,
former workers had to pay for the $200 to $600 tests themselves. Rep.
Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) said workers who test positive for beryllium
disease would receive treatment and monitoring through a companion
program run by the Labor Department (Donna Wright,
Herald, Feb. 23).
The Labor Department program pays up
to $150,000 in medical expenses for workers suffering from berylliosis.
To date the agency has paid more than $800 million to workers afflicted
with the disease. Because the symptoms take so long to develop, officials
have said there may be another 800,000 people who have the disease but do
not know it (Scott Carroll,
Herald-Tribune, Feb. 23).
"I encourage all workers to go
and get this test done," said John Shaw, DOE assistant secretary for
Environment, Health and Safety. "DOE is committed to finding these
workers, who are heroes of the Cold War. We feel we're doing what is
right and we're so glad to be able to do it" (Don Hopey,
Post-Gazette, Feb. 24).
Meanwhile, other former nuclear
weapons manufacturing employees who suffer from diseases related to
hazardous substance exposure have said the government is taking too long
to settle claims through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness
Since April 2004, the Government
Accountability Office has released four reports that criticize the labor
and energy departments, as well as the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, for the slow pace of claims processing
Courant, Feb. 24). -- DRL