Agency calls for compensation for sick Hanford workers

Tri-City Herald: Mid-Columbia news

  Mid-Columbia news

Agency calls for compensation for sick Hanford workers

Published Wednesday, September 26th, 2007


A federal review is recommending that some Hanford workers exposed to radioactive americium or thorium be automatically awarded $150,000 if they developed any of a wide range of cancers.

However, the review by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, found that most Hanford workers from 1946 to 1990 who develop cancer should not receive automatic compensation. Enough information about radiation exposure is available to estimate individual radiation doses for most workers, according to the review.

Under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, workers who develop cancer or their survivors may receive compensation if NIOSH reconstructs the amount of radiation they received on the job through 1990 and determines it had at least a 50 percent chance of causing their illness.

If too little information exists for the radiation dose to be reconstructed, groups of workers may be classified as “special exposure cohorts” and automatically compensated if they develop any of 22 cancers.

Earlier this year, NIOSH recommended that the earliest Hanford workers — those who were exposed to radiation from 1943 to August 1946 — be named a special exposure cohort. The most recent review covered the remainder of Hanford workers through 1990.

It found that inadequate information exists to reconstruct the radiation doses of some workers exposed to americium at the Plutonium Finishing Plant and workers exposed to thorium in the 300 Area just north of Richland.

But it concluded that in most cases a radiation dose estimate could be made even if radiation dose readings were not done for all workers or were done inaccurately.

One of two petitions for special exposure cohorts that the review considered said construction workers were not monitored between 1967 and 1971. But NIOSH said radiation estimates could be made based on conservative assumptions and using results of monitoring for other workers.

In cases in which monitoring was known to be inadequate, adjustments to estimates can be made, the review said. For instance, measurements recorded from certain Hanford dosimeters should be increased by 50 percent to account for any uncertainties, the review said.

Rosemary Hoyt, of Lyle, who with her sister brought the other of two petitions being considered, said she disagreed with the review’s conclusions. The Hanford Site Profile, which describes radiation protection and is used as a guide in establishing radiation doses, is faulty, she said.

The review did not indicate how many of 2,614 workers who have applied for the $150,000 compensation might be eligible for special exposure cohorts because of exposure to americium or thorium.

NIOSH concluded that exposure to radiation in a program to recover americium at the Plutonium Finishing Plant from 1949 to 1968 had not been monitored enough to provide good data. Exposure also occurred in two related facilities, the 231-Z Isolation Building and 242-Z Waste Treatment Facility. The americium was being recovered for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to use as a power source in early space flights.

Work to separate americium 241, a trace contaminant, from plutonium mixtures began as early as 1949. But there is no record that routine monitoring for radiation from americium was done when the work was not associated with other plutonium activities before 1968, the review said.

Work with thorium began in October 1945 in the 300 Area of Hanford. Thorium was fabricated for use in production reactors as part of a program to see if it could be used rather than plutonium in nuclear weapons.

Workers at the Metal Fabrication Building, the Reactor Fuel Manufacturing Pilot Plant, the 300 Area Maintenance Shops and the Radiochemistry Laboratory may have been exposed to radiation from thorium that was not adequately monitored before 1960, the report said. Workers commonly referred to the buildings by their numbers: 313, 306, 3722 and 3706.

The NIOSH recommendation will next be considered by the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, which next meets in Naperville, Ill., Oct. 3 to 5.

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