The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Nuclear workers to hear radiation exposure report

Officials with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and Oak Ridge Associated Universities will talk to Paducah workers.

By Joe Walker
jwalker@paducahsun.com
270.575.8656

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Nuclear workers will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Cherry Civic Center with federal scientists who compiled a profile of historic radiation exposure at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Representatives of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Atlanta and Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will talk with workers about the report, said Leon Owens, worker-health liaison for the local nuclear workers' union.

Although the profile was for radiation exposure only, workers think it should be expanded to cover work areas and toxins to help speed up claims under a new program to compensate them for toxic exposure, Owens said. Another concern is that the profile relies heavily on exposure data from the Energy Department, which was incomplete until recent years.

NIOSH spokesman Fred Blosser said last month that the agency is not directly involved with the toxic-exposure program, and the site profile was compiled for a separate program that compensates workers for radiation-induced cancer and beryllium disease. He encouraged those with concerns about the profile to contact the agency by phoning 513-533-6800 or by e-mail at ocas@cdc.gov.

Owens said Thursday's meeting will allow the scientists to explain how and why the profile was done, and give workers a chance for feedback. "We'll limit the talks to the Paducah site profile and won't get into the claims program because they're not equipped to discuss claims," he said.

Afterward, workers will be invited to the union hall on Cairo Road to meet with representatives of the local Labor Department claims office and an Energy Department-sponsored health screening program, he said.

"If they haven't filed a claim, they can do that," Owens said. "We're trying to cover all those bases."

In four years, the Labor Department has paid about $175 million to Paducah workers with cancer or beryllium disease. About 1,000 Paducah cases have been referred to NIOSH to determine if there was a link between exposure and disease.

Last October, Congress expanded legislation to pay claims for toxic exposure by relying more heavily on plant profiles. The law provides for input from workers to fill exposure gaps, Owens said.

Workers with beryllium disease or various types of radiation-induced cancers are entitled to $150,000 lump-sum payments. The expanded law provides for up to $250,000 for workers exposed to various other toxins. Some of the sickest workers could get as much as $400,000 under both programs.

There are an estimated 3,000 toxic-exposure claims at Paducah that backlogged under a program formerly run by the Energy Department. It will be summer before the Labor Department has rules, procedures and staffing to start paying most of those claims.

Claims may be filed at the Paducah Energy Employees Compensation Resource Center, 125 Memorial Drive, next to Milner & Orr Funeral Home off Blandville Road. Phone: 534-0599 or toll-free 866-534-0599. E-mail: paducah.center@eh.doe.