The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Coverage sought for all children of sick workers

A Livingston survivor of a Paducah plant casualty organizes a picket at the center that would pay only minor children.

By Joe Walker

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Gena Baker thinks a new law is shortchanging adult survivors of Paducah nuclear workers who died from job exposure to toxins.

"I just want all the adult survivors to receive what's coming to them because if the government only pays the minors, there's not going to be very much money paid," she said.

Baker, 49, of Livingston County, has organized an informational picket from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Thursday at the Paducah Energy Employees Compensation Resource Center, 125 Memorial Drive, next to Milner & Orr Funeral Home off Blandville Road. Although she was unsure of the exact turnout, some said they were coming from as far away as Tennessee and Pennsylvania to participate, Baker said.

"They're all adult survivors, and it's much bigger than I had anticipated," she said. "There is even talk about a protest in Washington."

Last fall, Congress passed legislation revamping the badly backlogged claims program and transferring it from the U.S. Department of Energy to the U.S. Department of Labor. Final interim regulations were finished May 27, and the government will begin paying the bulk of claims this summer.

The new program allows surviving spouses and dependent children of workers who died from toxic exposure to receive up to $175,000. Baker and others have complained at past public meetings that the law limits child survivors to those who were 18 and under at the time of a worker's death; were 23 and younger but full-time college students; or were otherwise dependent.

Various adult survivors have said they spent years caring for sick parents who were exposed to toxins at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, yet have no chance for compensation.

Eugene Charvat, Baker's dad, worked at the plant for 32 years and died of lung cancer at age 72, long after his children were grown. He died in December 1996, nine months before their mother died in September 1997. Many years earlier, Charvat was exposed to toxic uranium hexafluoride gas when a supervisor changed a valve, Baker said.

Baker says most surviving children of deceased plant workers are middle-aged or older because much of the exposure occurred during the Cold War. She and her four siblings are excluded, even though they previously received $150,000 under a separate program that pays claims for cancers related to radiation exposure.

"Most of these men are in their 80s," Baker said. "So there aren't many survivors under 18."

Baker said she has been unable to obtain statistics on how many adult children are ineligible, but estimates they account for 95 percent of the cases.

Baker said she doesn't blame the employees and managers of the claims center, who have been "tremendous to work with" in handling cases. She also conceded the Labor Department must abide by the law.

The problem, Baker said, is that Congress stopped short of compensating all who deserve it.

Previously, aides of federal lawmakers from Kentucky have said it was extremely difficult revamping the law because of budget constraints, more pressing matters in Congress and resistance from lawmakers in states unaffected by the law. Baker said she continues to push for improvements.

"I think the government is trying to get out of paying what it owes," she said. "There's no law that's carved in stone and can't be changed."

Claims may be filed or reviewed 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.