Workers bid for special cohort status

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By Roger Snodgrass

A petition for special compensation for a new class of workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory is under review by an advisory board of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the petitioner said last week.

Andrew Evaskovich, a LANL guard, said he hoped the board would visit Los Alamos during their deliberations, later this year or early next year.

Evaskovich said he started his efforts in the fall of 2006, by helping former State Sen. Harriet Ruiz, who led a successful petition on behalf of her late husband Ray Ruiz and hundreds of LANL workers. They were designated a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) in July 2007.

“Approval of that petition cut my work in half,” Evaskovich said, “because it covered exposures up until 1975.”

The first SEC that was approved covered LANL workers likely to have been exposed to radioactive lanthanum in Technical Area 10 at the Bayo Canyon facility from Sept. 1, 1944, to July 8,1963.

The special status speeds up the process by which certain laboratory employees from March 15, 1945, through 1975 would receive compensation under a federal entitlement program for nuclear workers.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, passed originally in 2000 and amended since then, allows for compensating employees in a designated special cohort who have developed any of 22 kinds of cancer, without a full dose reconstruction.

The provision recognized that complete medical histories were not always available from the Department of Energy sites.

The petition now under consideration covers support workers who worked at LANL from 1976 through 2005. They had to have worked for at least 250 days in operational areas where radioactive materials were present, or the days they did work could be added to the qualifications for other cohorts if there were overlaps.

Support service employees in the petition are meant to include “security guards, firefighters, laborers, custodians, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, pipe-fitters, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, welders, maintenance workers, truck drivers, delivery persons, rad technicians and area work coordinators.”

The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health accepted the petition for consideration earlier this year.

“They can redefine the class,” Evaskovich said. “They can lengthen the time period even up to now, although I doubt that will happen.”

He said the board was also authorized to enlarge the definition of workers.

“Or carve off,” he said. “’We don’t think truck drivers were affected,’ they could say.”

Evaskovich, a former state police officer and a former officer in the local International Guards Union of America, said he has been deeply involved in health and safety issues and research at the laboratory for several years.

The petition is justified, according to the formal document “because NIOSH is not able to estimate with sufficient accuracy radiation doses for the identified class.”

In approving a SEC for the period 1943 through 1975, the new petition notes that an evaluation report said accurate data was insufficient “at a minimum” up until 1975, opening the door to further claims by adding, “Nevertheless, the potential for monitored and unmonitored intakes has existed throughout the history of the site.”

An extensive appendix lists numerous audits, reports, studies, investigations, lists, workbooks, maps, charts and other supporting documents.

Evaskovich said there were two main arguments.

One was that the air monitoring was inadequate for dose reconstruction during the period, and the other has to do with the exotic radionuclides that have been used at the laboratory.

“The bioassay system doesn’t cover all these,” he said. “They missed a lot of stuff from what I see in the documents.”

He said the typical external dose construction starts with readings from thermoluminiscence dosimeters and the internal dose comes from urinalysis.

“If you don’t have those, you use coworkers’ data and then the environmental information,” he said. “You can’t use coworkers’ data for support services because they move around all the time.”