Washington, DC — Today, Representatives Brian Higgins, Louise Slaughter, and Thomas Reynolds joined Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton in calling on the Advisory Board on Radiation and Workers Health to recommend approval of the petition by former Bethlehem Steel workers to create a “Special Exposure Cohort” for those who worked in Bethlehem Steel’s nuclear weapons program during the Cold War. Approval of this petition would make the former nuclear workers eligible to receive compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program if exposure records do not allow case-by-case decisions to be made.
“Approval of this application would give former Bethlehem Steel workers and their families a chance to receive compensation that is long overdue,” said Rep. Higgins. “These Cold War heroes have suffered with illness for decades due to their service to our country, and it is time to finally correct this injustice and give these workers the compensation they deserve.”
“New York’s Cold War heroes deserve justice, not yet another cold shoulder from a heartless bureaucracy. NIOSH must approve the Special Exposure Cohort for Bethlehem Steel workers – it will make all the difference in getting them the compensation they deserve,” Schumer said. “I have heard heartbreaking stories of friends and loved ones dying of cancers that were caused by exposure to radiation in service to America. Enough is enough – NIOSH must right this past injustice by quickly approving their Special Exposure Cohort application.”
“When it meets this week, the Advisory Board faces a very important decision – whether or not to uphold our collective responsibility to the former Bethlehem Steel workers and their families. This fight has been going on for far too long. In 2000, Congress promised timely compensation to cold war nuclear weapons workers who became ill from radiation exposure, and that promise has yet to be met at Bethlehem Steel. I have testified before the Advisory Board about the plight of the Bethlehem Steel claimants in the past, and I hope the Board considers the stories of these workers and their survivors as they meet this week. I urge the Advisory Board to recommend approval of the Bethlehem Steel Special Exposure Cohort petition and help bring justice to these Cold War heroes.” Senator Clinton said.
"The workers of Bethlehem Steel who risked their lives for our country deserve immediate compensation,” said Rep. Slaughter. “Despite many incidences of work-related illnesses and deaths, former employees of Bethlehem Steel have not found relief because of insufficient records that make dose reconstruction virtually impossible. Approval of this petition will help the employees of Bethlehem steel receive the benefits promised to them in a timely manner, and I urge its support."
"These Western New Yorkers are heroes and have earned the right to this compensation," said Congressman Thomas M. Reynolds (R-Clarence). "Too often in the past, the workers have been cut short for what they deserve, and that needs to be corrected."
Under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), those who performed weapons work during World War II and the Cold War who subsequently contracted radioactive cancer, beryllium disease or chronic silicosis are eligible to file claims with the US Department of Labor (DOL) for individual payments of $150,000, as well as medical benefits. Patients or their surviving families were required to provide proper documentation of their illness and their employment history in order to file a claim.
Payment of these claims is decided by the DOL and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by using available records about work conditions and employment history to perform a “dose reconstruction process” to determine both the radiation doses received by employees and whether or not radiation exposure was the cause of the employees’ illness. However, at certain facilities, such as Bethlehem Steel, workers did not wear individual radiation monitors. Compensation decisions have been made for these workers using a radiation exposure model that relies on data from another facility—the Simonds Saw facility in Lockport, New York. Subsequent studies have shown this dose reconstruction process to be a grossly inadequate measure of these workers’ radiation exposure.
On March 6, 2007 Senators Clinton and Schumer and Representatives Higgins, Reynolds and Slaughter re-introduced legislation to amend the criteria by which employees can be added to a special exposure cohort. Former employees added to the cohort would be exempt from the dose reconstruction process. Employees with an eligible cancer who worked at a facility where nuclear weapons work was performed will be presumed to have contracted the cancer from workplace exposure and their claim will be paid.
The full text of the letter follows.
Paul Ziemer, Ph.D
Advisory Board on Radiation and Workers Health
4676 Columbia Parkway, MS: C-46
Cincinnati, OH 45226
Dear Dr. Ziemer:
We urge you to recommend approval of the petition to create a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) for former Bethlehem Steel employees who worked at the plant from January 1, 1949 through December 31, 1952.
We believe this petition should be promptly approved so as to give the necessary relief to former workers and their families, who have struggled for decades because of dangerous exposure to radiation and other particulates.
The former Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna, New York played a crucial part in the Cold War and was a lynchpin in Western New York’s industrial economy for over a century. Thousands worked long hours and under very difficult conditions to create modern machines, weapons, and devices that were the technological innovations of their time. Work intensified throughout the first years of the Cold War, as our country’s demand for modern weapons and machines increased.
Work at the Bethlehem Steel plant was hazardous, but at the time, workers had no idea of the immense health risks associated with the uranium-rolling. Specifically during weekend shifts, workers would process upwards of 350 tons of uranium material, unknowingly ingesting radioactive dust during the process.
Decades later, only after hundreds of former workers developed cancer, did the federal government take responsibility for this travesty. Passage of The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act in 2000 was meant to provide compensation and relief to workers like those at Bethlehem Steel who developed debilitating or fatal diseases due to work-related exposure to radioactive material in service to our nation. The law directed the Department of Labor to establish a process, known as Special Exposure Cohort, to decide groups of claims for facilities where a lack of data prevented dose reconstructions from being completed with sufficient accuracy.
Bethlehem Steel workers did not wear individual radiation exposure monitors when uranium-rolling occurred. The few ambient air samples from between January 1, 1949 and December 31, 1952 were taken at monitors that were far removed from the rollers where exposure was the greatest. Yet in spite of this complete lack of data about uranium exposure at Bethlehem Steel, NIOSH has used data from other facilities to reconstruct individual radiation doses for Bethlehem Steel claimants. In addition, NIOSH completed its initial profile of conditions at Bethlehem Steel – the document that is the basis for dose reconstruction – without even interviewing surviving workers. Former workers then came forward with information that demonstrated major flaws in the site profile.
While NIOSH has made some improvements to their site profile, the data needed to accurately reconstruct dose exposure for Bethlehem Steel workers does not exist. Under these circumstances, EEOICPA requires that Bethlehem Steel be placed in a special cohort.
Finally, the denials are not based on records from the Bethlehem Steel plant, but from calculated reconstructions based on sampling from similar plants. Simply stated, it is wrong to deny the former employees of Bethlehem Steel the compensation which, through their hard labor and sacrifice, they have so obviously earned. They served our nation in her time of need; they suffered as a result of this service – through no fault of their own; and now they deserve justice in the form of compensation from the very system that was established to aid those in exactly this situation.
There are 717 cases arising from the exposure to nuclear materials at the Bethlehem Steel plant. According to NIOSH, as of March 20, 2007, less than half of those claims have resulted in compensation. We believe that this record is unacceptable and that the proposed SEC petition would present a much more equitable and fair result for these families. Therefore, we respectfully request the Board to recommend approval of the petition so that this terrible situation can be laid to rest and the many families who have been wrought with so many tragedies can finally have peace of mind.