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Higgins, Gillibrand, Slaughter, Massa & Lee Call for Federal Board to Meet with Former Bethlehem Steel Workers

Jun 8, 2009
Press Release

Congressman Brian Higgins, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Congressmen Eric Massa and Chris Lee sent a letter to the federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health calling for the Board to hold a meeting in Buffalo, NY to hear first-hand the concerns and frustrations of former Bethlehem Steel employees. 

“Local residents are feeling let down by the country they worked so hard to protect,” said Congressman Higgins.  “Bethlehem Steel employees and their families deserve respect and the opportunity to be heard.”

“The former employees at Bethlehem Steel have been neglected for far too long, and should not have to scale a mountain of red tape or prove the un-provable before receiving the compensation they deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These unsung heroes unknowingly sacrificed their health and wellbeing to advance our Cold War efforts during a critical time in our nation’s history. Those affected at Bethlehem Steel must have an opportunity for their case to be heard.”

“These former Bethlehem Steel employees helped to defend and secure our country,” said Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter. “We intend to ensure that these employees and their families receive the respect they deserve.”

“These workers should have the opportunity to tell their stories and voice their concerns so leaders in Washington can understand the full extent of the sacrifices that were made to protect our country,” said Congressman Lee. 

Hundreds of local Bethlehem Steel workers or their survivors have filed claims for compensation under the federal program for employees of Department of Energy and contractors who have developed debilitating or fatal diseases due to work-related exposure to radioactive material.

Of the 804 claims that have been filed, 393 cases have been denied, and the claimants and their families are left frustrated that the information they provided in the lengthy application processes were not given the credence they deserved. 

From the 1940s through the 1960s workers at hundreds of facilities helped to build the nuclear arsenal that served as a deterrent to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Without adequate monitoring or protections, many of those workers were exposed to significant levels of radiation. The Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, NY falls within the definition of an atomic weapons employer facility. 

Significant problems exist with NIOSH’s assessment of the claims because very little data exists from the Bethlehem Steel site, as the plant closed long ago.  Members of the WNY federal delegation recently introduced The Ed Walker Memorial Act which works to reform the compensation program for nuclear workers at Bethlehem Steel and other former New York atomic weapons production facilities, and allows them to receive the compensation they are due.  

In May WNY Delegation staff also met with a representative from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the agency  responsible for determining each EEOICP site profile through “dose reconstruction,” a scientific method that calculates the radiation exposure that an employee encountered depending upon his or her job within the facility.