July 1, 2006
On behalf of the workers at the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons sites, I wish to express my concerns for the proposed dismantling of the Office of Environment, Safety and Health (EH), and the reorganization of its duties into a new and untried entity.
As a current worker with Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD), I have seen my quality of life destroyed by past failure of the Department of Energy's predecessors, and its contractors. As a worker advocate and chairman of the Y-12 Beryllium Support Group, I continue to see new cases of this illness almost monthly. Oak Ridge Operations has resulted in over 300 claims for CBD under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Plan Act, another 300 for beryllium sensitivity. Most of these claims have at least initial approval. The Beryllium Rule, 10 CFR 850, was passed in 2000, to reduce the number of new beryllium workers, prevent new cases, and lessen the severity of the illness. However, there have been major disagreements with contractor management over interpretation and enforcement of the Rule. In February 2006, the Worker Safety and Health Program Rule, 10 CFR 850, was passed, making the Beryllium Rule enforceable, under authority of the Assistant Secretary of ES&H. Elimination of EH would destroy enforceability of 10 CFR 850. While I am open to change, there has been no positive outcome for the workers shown by this change.
Despite the general distrust of DOE and the contractors, EH has had unusually strong support from workers. I have attended a number of DOE health-related conferences, and have seen improvements to worker health and safety programs and communication. This momentum should not be lost in an unproven and unnecessary reorganization. Identifying and repairing any weaknesses in EH would be a much more rational approach.
I wish to add my objections to those of former Assistant Secretaries for Environment, Safety and Health, especially Dr. Michaels; the former Secretary of Energy; the Congressmen who have contacted your office on this issue; the national labor unions ; and most importantly, the "ground troops"- the workers.
I urge you to reconsider this unneeded and potentially damaging change.