Judy DeHaas The Rocky Â©
Marlene Shannon’s husband, Mike Shannon, died more than four years ago from cancer. For years he worked in Rocky Flats Building 881 where, according to records, workers were exposed to neutron radiation. But the 775 workers from the building were omitted from the list of those who will get help with their illnesses.
By Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News
November 6, 2007
Workers from one of the largest and oldest production buildings at Rocky Flats have been left off the final list of workers who’ll get immediate aid for radiation-related cancers.
But data reviewed by the Rocky Mountain News indicate the presence in Building 881 of the very type of radiation that was supposed to earn a spot on the list. In all, 775 people were monitored for neutron radiation, one of the most dangerous kinds.
“Maybe they left the building off the list because there were 775 workers involved and they didn’t want to pay for that many people,” said Marlene Shannon, the widow of a Rocky Flats worker.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the compensation program, said the U.S. Department Health and Human Services was responsible for determining who could receive immediate benefits without having to document a link between a sickness and workplace exposure.
Health officials earlier said the Labor Department would determine which buildings were included on the list that would make people who worked in them eligible for immediate aid.
Being left off the list means people like Shannon will face a years-long struggle to prove which illnesses are linked to workplace exposures. Had Building 881 been included, Shannon would be granted compensation immediately because the kind of kidney cancer that killed her husband has known links to radiation.
“It’s really hard to deal with the government on this,” Shannon said. “It’s horrible.”
Building 881 might not be the only facility where crucial information has been overlooked or ignored.
In a draft report sent to members of a White House advisory board in June, independent scientists said:
“There are some areas and buildings where there was a potential for neutron exposure where there do not appear to be any dose measurements,” a crucial piece of evidence in weighing compensation applications.
“There may also be other such areas at Rocky Flats.”
The independent scientists said they had not attempted to determine such additional areas, but hoped that federal scientists would.
The beleaguered aid program, called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, was the subject of a Congressional hearing last month because so many claimants have faced delay and denial.
This summer, workers from Building 881 pleaded with a White House advisory board to recommend those with radiation-induced cancers for immediate compensation.
Despite worker testimony, scientific data, and repeated inquiries from worker advocates, the Labor Department did not include Building 881 on the list of nine Rocky Flats buildings where workers would qualify for streamlined aid. To make the list, workers had to be present between 1952 and 1966, and have been monitored or “should have been monitored” for neutron radiation.
Data reviewed by the Rocky show nearly 2,700 neutron radiation monitoring records for 775 people during that time at Building 881.
Neutron radiation can come from plutonium or certain kinds of uranium, both of which were present in Building 881, an enormous concrete structure built three stories underground before it was demolished with the rest of the Rocky Flats complex. The site officially became a federal wildlife refuge in July.
In addition to the evidence of the neutron monitoring data, reports show levels of plutonium in the building’s exhaust system high enough for it to be shipped to a plutonium production facility in Georgia. The Rocky reported in June that some of the federal officials who disputed the presence of plutonium in the building were the same officials who paid for a 10-year study that documented the contamination.
When the compensation program started in 2001, Marlene Shannon’s husband, Mike, proved to be a godsend to the widows of his fellow workers. He filled out forms and answered questions as the bewildered women tried to figure out how to meet the requirements for compensation.
After her husband died, Marlene Shannon filled out the paperwork, talked to program officials, responded to letters and waited. After waiting several years, she finally received a letter saying her claim was denied.
“I was going to refile,” Shannon said. “But when I called my (claims examiner), she said ‘Why are you calling me? There’s nothing I can do to help you.’ So I just gave up.”
frankl@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5091