Audit Rips Former Nuclear Weapons Site

An independent audit of the "site profile" of a former nuclear weapons plant could offer new hope to workers who have been denied compensation from the federal government for medical problems related to radiation and chemical exposure.

In an audit of the Mound Plant – a facility in Miamisburg, Ohio, that for decades was involved in nuclear weapons research and production for the U.S. government – Virginia-based Sanford Cohen and Associates discovered inadequate recordkeeping as well as improper monitoring of workers who were involved in environmental remediation after the plant closed down in 1990s.

According to the audit:

  • Mound workers weren't properly monitored for possible exposures to toxic metals and plutonium-238 oxide, which stay in the lungs and don't show up in urine tests.
  • Some workers were likely exposed to high levels of colorless, odorless radon gas that came from the "Old Cave," a storage pit for radium and thorium wastes.
  • Administrative, security, maintenance and janitorial employees might not have been monitored at all.
  • Inadequate worker monitoring procedures "may have led to significant under-reporting and missed dose at Mound."

Site Profile Is the Basis for Worker Claims

A site profile is a technical document that describes a specific work site. NIOSH uses the site profiles to assist in completing work for a "dose reconstruction" – the scientific method used by the agency to estimate the amount of radiation received by the worker.

The Department of Labor looks at the dose reconstruction to determine whether a worker's cancer was caused by exposure to chemicals or radiation at the Mound Plant. The Labor Department then decides whether the worker is entitled to compensation from the federal government.

Amanda Harney, health communications specialist for NIOSH's Office of Compensation Analysis and Support, told OccupationalHazards.com that 88 percent of the claims filed by former Mound workers have been processed so far, and of those, 70 percent have been rejected. However, if the federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health chooses to revise the Mound's site profile, those claims will have to be reviewed.

"If the advisory board asks us to revise the site profile, we will automatically review the dose reconstruction to see if the revisions of the site profile will affect [the claim's outcome]," Harney said.

According to Harney, if the government is unable to use science to reconstruct worker exposure to radiation, Mound workers could qualify for a status that would allow them to receive payments and medical benefits for certain cancers.

Harney also added that to date, the advisory board has "reviewed three completed Mound dose reconstructions and has not identified any major problems."

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