Comments Wanted on Rules to Assist Compensation of Nuclear\r\nWorkers

The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking input on new rules that require it to provide scientific guidance to help compensate workers at former defense facilities for health problems stemming from their employment.

If you have something to say about the rules used to help the U.S. Department of Labor compensate nuclear workers for job-related cancers, then the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs your input.

HHS is looking for comments on two rules requiring it to provide the scientific expertise that will help determine compensation for nuclear workers under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000. The two rules, "Methods for Radiation Dose Reconstruction" and "Guidelines for Determining the Probability of Causation," are published in the Federal Register as an interim final rule and a notice of proposed rulemaking, respectively.

Under the Compensation Act, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is administering claims by current and former employees of nuclear weapons production facilities and their survivors who seek compensation for cancers caused by radiation exposures sustained in the performance of duty, as well as for chronic beryllium disease and silicosis.

Under the Act, HHS is directed to provide the scientific information that DOL will use to evaluate claims by workers who seek compensation for certain cancers caused by occupational radiation exposures but are not requesting compensation under the "Special Exposure Cohort" provisions of the Act. The Special Exposure Cohort includes workers with specified cancers who were employed at specific sites designated in the Act.

"For a program as important as this, we have to bring the best scientific expertise we can to the table and move as quickly as possible," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "With [these] notices, we are taking steps to put some key processes in place immediately as we proceed with further steps to make sure that our products pass rigorous scientific scrutiny and public review."

The interim final rule specifies the methods that HHS will use in developing the scientific information that it will provide to DOL. It establishes the methods that will be used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in estimating claimants' past occupational exposures to radiation in cancer cases referred to CDC/NIOSH by DOL. That process is called dose reconstruction.

The notice of proposed rulemaking specifies the scientific guidelines that DOL should use in determining whether it is at least as likely as not that a worker's cancer was caused by occupational exposure to radiation at nuclear weapons production sites. That process is called determining the probability of causation.

A final rule on probability of causation will go into effect after the public and an independent expert advisory board have had an opportunity to comment on the proposal. To the extent that the science and data involve uncertainties, those uncertainties will be handled to the advantage of the claimant.

The methods and guidelines rely on well-established scientific procedures and principles for estimating radiation exposures and determining radiation-related cancer risks. They will take into account available radiation exposure and health data, including information obtained from the work sites and from parties with expertise on exposure conditions at the work sites, which includes the employees themselves. CDC/NIOSH is drawing on scientific models developed by the National Cancer Institute.

HHS is seeking public comment on the interim final rule on dose reconstruction within 30 days, and public comment on the proposed rulemaking on probability of causation within 60 days.

Comments should be sent to the CDC/NIOSH Docket Officer at CDC/NIOSH Docket Office, Robert A. Taft Laboratories, M/S C34, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226, or may be submitted electronically by e-mail to [email protected]

The interim final rule and the notice of proposed rulemaking can be obtained through the NIOSH toll-free information number at 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

Edited by Sandy Smith

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