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Panel Rejects Sick Nuclear Workers' Plea

A federal advisory panel has rejected the plea of 3,000 sick nuclear workers to expedite health claims of $150,000 for exposure to radiation, which has caused many to fall ill with cancer.

The workers – formerly employed at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant – for years have been trying to get compensation and had to go through an arduous process to see if they were eligible. If workers were able to demonstrate with evidence that they suffer from any of the 22 kinds of cancer linked to radiation, they had to file a claim with the Department of Labor. Then the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) had to determine if there was enough data to reconstruct workers' radiation doses.

In a 6-4 vote, the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined that occupational safety scientists from NIOSH could accurately determine dose exposure for the plant’s former workers from Jan 1, 1967, to 2005. Consequently, the board did not recommend “special exposure cohort” (SEC) status to the workers.

According to media reports, the board did recommend a relatively small subset of petitioning workers who were exposed from 1959 to 1966 to be allowed to receive the expedited benefits. The panel found that NIOSH could not be expected to establish the dose for so early a period.

Union Outraged by Board's Decision

The board's decision angered the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

“It is an outrage that six of the advisory board members decided to believe the faulty, insufficient and incomplete data NIOSH uncovered over workers’ experiences of what actually happened at that plant,” USW District 12 Director Terry Bonds said. “These workers told the truth behind those faulty numbers and they were ignored.”

Bonds also argued that the “science behind dose reconstructions was imprecise” and said that the proof is in the thousands of workers who have fallen sick with cancer and other maladies.

USW President Leo Gerard promised more congressional appeals.

“Our union is prepared to get justice for these nuclear workers who sacrificed their lives for our national security,” Gerard said.

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