Tallevast compensation slow to reach workers

Bradenton.com | 07/15/2007 | Tallevast compensation slow to reach workers

Tallevast compensation slow to reach workers
Former Beryllium worker Charles Ziegler and his wife Beatrice are suing Lockheed Martin Corp. for personal injury damages.
BRIAN BLANCO/bblanco@bradenton.com
Former Beryllium worker Charles Ziegler and his wife Beatrice are suing Lockheed Martin Corp. for personal injury damages.

* A guide to Tallevast toxins
* Former Tallevast worker sues Lockheed over toxic exposure


Even though Charlie Ziegler has confirmed chronic beryllium disease, the former janitor at Loral American Beryllium Co. still has not received compensation for his illness through a federal program set up to aid workers who made nuclear weapon parts during the Cold War.

Ziegler is not alone.

Many of his co-workers who also applied for medical benefits and compensation also have been denied.

The numbers tell the story.

As of Thursday, 186 workers or survivors of workers from the local plant applied for benefits. Only 22 have received final approval from the U.S. Department of Labor, which administers the compensation program for the Department of Energy.

Of those approved, nine have received compensation totaling $1.35 million.

The Tallevast plant made components for missile guidance systems and nuclear reactors from beryllium, a very lightweight, but durable, metal. Inhaling beryllium dust or fumes may cause serious, chronic lung disease and lung cancer that can be fatal if not treated, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

To date, the government has paid out $59,627 in medical bills for Loral American Beryllium workers who had developed beryllium sensitivity, the allergic reaction that is the forerunner for beryllium disease.

Statewide, 2,443 workers or their survivors from six plants and one university that had federal contracts for beryllium work have filed claims, with only 573 receiving payments totaling $53.2 million.

The lack of action on claims frustrated Ziegler and other workers who know they are sick but have so far not been able to produce the specific medical tests results to be approved.

The compensation program was enacted by Congress to aid beryllium workers who worked on nuclear projects for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Two years ago, DOE expanded its free testing program to cover workers at plants like the Loral American Beryllium Co., which had subcontracts with the government.

Prior to that expansion, workers who thought they may have been exposed had to pay for an expensive blood test themselves to qualify for the program. Once their claims were approved, they could get reimbursed for the blood tests.

The initial test that screens for beryllium sensitivity is offered by only a handful of laboratories throughout the nation and costs between $250 and $600.

Free tests for former employees at the Loral plant were offered in April 2005 by officials with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education who visited Bradenton. Workers could also get the free test by calling the Oak Ridge Institute. The institute worked with local doctors to collect the blood samples.

Since testing began, the Oak Ridge Institute has tested 151 former employees of the Tallevast plant, according to spokeswoman Pam Bonnee.

“To date, we have 16 that have had one abnormal blood test and that abnormal result qualifies them for the compensation program,” said Bonnee. The institute has so far found contact information for 242 former workers, Bonnee said.

“We know there are many more out there we have not been able to reach,” she said. “We are still offering the free tests. All they have to do is call.”

But should they receive an abnormal or positive result that qualifies them, they still must pass the gantlet to get their claim approved.

For Ziegler and many others, that process has been a trial made even more difficult by their declining health.

With their positive diagnoses, there is now no question that Ziegler as well as his wife, Beatrice, and brother-in-law, Leroy Mazon, were exposed.

The Zieglers and Mazon filed suit Thursday against Lockheed Martin Corp., which gained control of the company in a buyout of the Loral Corp. in 1996.

The suit also names WPI Sarasota Division Inc., and Wire Pro Inc., cable manufacturers that until recently operated out of the plant, as well as BECSD, a New Jersey limited holding company that now owns the facility.

The suit claims that operations at the plant failed to meet government and industry standards to protect workers and residents. Find a Q&A, phone numbers and addresses for tests, and medical information.

• Read archived stories about Tallevast.

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