Rally in the Valley

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By Roger Snodgrass

Current and former workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory will synchronize with other energy employees and communities around the country Wednesday to demand additional reforms in the compensation program for Cold War workers who have suffered occupational illnesses.

Nationally, rallies will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn. Locally, the rally will be held in Española outside the Energy Employee Compensation Resource Center offices at 412 Paseo de Oñate, Suite D.

Maureen Merritt, a physician advocate with the Mexico Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocates, organized the local rally.

“The intention was good when the act was set up,” Merritt said in a phone call Monday. “However, we have found that the current administration of this program has been far from ideal. Too many claims have been denied or endlessly delayed.”

The Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) was passed originally in 2000 under then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. The original legislation entitled employees who became ill while working at DOE weapons and nuclear facilities, or their survivors, to a lump-sum payment of $150,000 under certain guidelines, known as Part B. Part B limited compensation to specific diseases, including cancers caused by exposure to radioactivity, as well as beryllium disease and silicosis.

A second provision, revised in 2004 as Part E, entitled claimants with chemically induced cancers and pulmonary diseases like asbestosis to the same lump payment and provided as much as another $250,000 for medical benefits and compensation under a complex system of accepted conditions.

According to data as of June 22, compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which plays an important role in determining eligibilities, there have been 7,026 claims at Los Alamos National Laboratory under the program, and 1,277 payments made totaling $117,464,597, including $2,071,853 in medical bills.

“There is a lot of justified frustration on the part of claimants and their family members on how the program has been implemented,” said Ken Silver, an occupational health educator and advocate, who has been involved in the program from the beginning.

“Is it working? It is working,” said Loretta Valero, a state ombudsman for EEOICPA claimants, about the current program. “Do some changes need to be made? I’m sure, like all government programs, some changes are needed.”

Gov. Richardson appointed Valero in September 2007. She will be working under the New Mexico Environment Department beginning July 1.

Valero said one of the things that has accelerated the process the most has been the provision, under Part E, for Special Exposure Cohorts, which describe whole categories of employees within certain time frames who are eligible for compensation if they have developed any of 22 kinds of cancer.

The SEC allows claimants to be considered without the need for a full dose reconstruction, a full medical history of exposure that was not always complete or for which only partial records were available.

Los Alamos has two special exposure cohorts that were established in 2006.

One includes a relatively small group, defined as all workers potentially exposed to radioactive lanthanum at the Technical Area 10 Bayo Canyon facility, TA–35 (Ten Site), or TA–1, buildings Sigma, H, and U., from Sept. 1, 1944, through July 18, 1963.

Another that is potentially much larger includes all DOE employees, contractors and subcontractors employed in all Technical areas between 1943 and 1975.

A new Special Exposure Cohort has been petitioned by Andrew Evaskovich, an employee of LANL, and was formally accepted for review by NIOSH last week.

This one would include “all support service workers” who worked in “any operational Technical Areas with a history of radioactive material use,” and would extend the period from Jan. 1, 1976, through Dec. 31, 2005.

In a press release Monday, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., applauded the NIOSH decision. He noted that Evaskovich was not ill and would not qualify for compensation, but had filed the petition on behalf of fellow employees who would qualify if the petition is granted.

“These workers are the unsung heroes of American military strength,” Udall said. “They should not be forced to spend their remaining years battling both cancer and their government.”

In the petition that organizers of the rally will be circulating to send to Congress, their first demand is “Special cohort status for all facilities whose dosimetry records are incomplete.” They also request that additional cancers be added to the special exposure cancer groups.

Because of the long delays, the groups are also asking for a cost of living increment for the compensation. Among other requests they call for a “Mayo Clinic for sick workers” where medical diagnostic testing would be provided.

For some basic material on NIOSH analysis and reviews at LANL on the web: www.cdc.gov/ NIOSH/ocas/lanl.html.