Payments OK’d for early Hanford workers: Federal officials expected to follow recommendation of national advisory board
This story was published Friday, July 20th, 2007
Annette Cary, Herald staff writer
Early Hanford workers exposed to radiation should automatically receive $150,000 in compensation if they developed any of a wide range of cancers, a national advisory board unanimously agreed Thursday.
The decision still needs approval by the secretary of Health and Human Services and Congress, but they are expected to follow the lead of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. The decision earlier was recommended to the board by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.
I feel “a sense of justice,” said Rosemary Hoyt of Lyle, one of the petitioners in the case. “I think our dad would be proud.”
Her father worked at the Hanford nuclear reservation from 1942 until 1961, when he could no longer pass the physical because of colon cancer that Hoyt believes was caused by radiation exposure. He died at age 47.
Under a U.S. Department of Labor program, ill workers at Hanford have been eligible for $150,000 compensation only if the government estimates their personal radiation exposure and determines there was at least a 50 percent chance that it caused their cancer.
But workers or their survivors can petition to be part of classes of workers called “special exposure cohorts” if they believe radiation exposure cannot be accurately calculated.
The advisory board determined that’s the case for Hanford workers who might have been exposed to radiation as early as Oct. 1, 1943, when uranium began arriving on site to be machined into fuel for Hanford reactors, until Aug. 31, 1946, the end of contractor DuPont’s operation of the site.
The determination would apply to any Hanford worker who was monitored or should have been monitored for internal radiological exposures at Hanford. That includes production and craft workers, such as carpenters and electricians, at the site where plutonium was made for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
They are required to have been employed for at least 250 days, although that time could include work at other weapons siteswith a special exposure cohort class.
The advisory board agreed with the NIOSH finding that Hanford did not have a reliable bioassay program to monitor the plutonium or fission products that workers might have inhaled or ingested while DuPont operated Hanford for the federal government. With only limited monitoring data for internal radiation, individual worker exposure could not be determined, it concluded.
The determination would affect 386 claims made by early workers or their survivors, including spouses, children or grandchildren. Some of those claims already may have been approved for payment, based at least in part on estimates of external radiation doses.
But there are expected to be many claims like the one involving Hoyt’s father, which were rejected and now likely will be eligible for compensation. NIOSH estimated a 41 percent chance that radiation caused her father’s cancer, based on data that the advisory board determined Thursday was inadequate for a sound decision.
The petition to establish a special exposure cohort for the early Hanford workers was brought by Seattle attorney Tom Foulds on behalf of 10 clients. The petition initially was rejected, but Foulds persisted and continued compiling information about the inadequacy of early data until the petition was approved by the board for all early Hanford workers.
The petition was merged with one brought by Hoyt and her sister, Mary Ann Carrico. They petitioned for all Hanford workers through 1990, but NIOSH combined the portion of their petition covering the earliest workers with the petition by Foulds.
NIOSH expects to have more information in September about whether workers in the remainder of the sisters’ petition from 1946 through 1990 also might qualify for a special exposure cohort.
To be eligible for the $150,000 compensation, workers or their survivors need to have a claim with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. For more information, to file a claim or check on the status of a claim, call 946-3333 or 888-654-0014.
* On the Net: www.cdc.gov/niosh/ocas. Click on “special exposure cohort” under the OCAS Directory for the list of covered cancers.