Nuclear plant records were contaminated with radiation, buried in underground shafts.
By Tom Beyerlein
Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Officials in charge of deciding whether cancer-stricken atomic workers qualify for federal compensation say they can accurately judge the cases of former Mound Plant workers without the unearthing of old Mound records buried in a radioactive waste landfill in New Mexico.
But Mound worker health advocate Paige Gibson said nobody knows the contents of the records, so it's "ludicrous" to say they couldn't be useful in determining whether worker cancers were caused by on-the-job exposures to radiation.
Staffers at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2005 buried in underground shafts more than 400 shrink-wrapped cardboard boxes, six 55-gallon drums and 11 safes containing classified records from Miamisburg's Mound nuclear weapons plant. The records were contaminated with radioactivity at Mound.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said earlier this year that the records could be critical to conducting accurate "dose reconstructions," a paperwork method of estimating worker exposures to harmful radiation. If a reconstruction shows at least a 50 percent probability that a worker's cancer was caused by occupational exposures, the worker qualifies for cash and medical benefits.
A federal contractor charged with quantifying past Mound hazards for the compensation program went to Los Alamos last year to view the records, only to learn they'd been buried. The records include logbooks, safety analysis reports, Mound studies of the properties of toxic metals used there, and descriptions of a 1989 release of radioactive tritium.
"At this point, NIOSH believes that we have all the records that we need to accurately reconstruct doses for the workers who would be impacted by the Mound buried-records issue," NIOSH spokeswoman Amanda Harney of Cincinnati said last week.
The Energy Department searched its archives for additional Mound records and interviewed two former workers familiar with the content of the buried records, said spokeswoman Megan Barnett in Washington. She said "there's a good deal of confidence" the buried records aren't critical to the compensation process.
Of 1,287 claims filed by former Mound workers with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, only 179 have been paid. NIOSH has ruled against Mound workers with dose reconstructions more than two-thirds of the time.
Gibson, a retired Mound worker who heads a union-sponsored health-screening program, said she thinks the buried records could be important, but she hates to see the government spend the estimated $9 million and 18 months to exhume them and make decontaminated copies. "I'm advocating they use that money to help the sick workers instead of fighting the sick workers."
She fears the buried records are ruined by exposure to the elements anyway. "They weren't meant to be protected," she said, "they were meant to be destroyed."
Mound workers plan to apply for special status that would exempt them from the dose reconstruction process and automatically trigger benefits for workers with certain cancers.
'It's a hornet's nest'
Russ Adams of Centerville was a Mound security analyst from 1985-96, and was approved for compensation in July 2006, five years after he applied. He has had 76 skin cancers surgically removed, including almost 30 in the last year.
His duties included handling the contaminated records now buried at Los Alamos, and "in my opinion, I had as much chance of getting (cancer) from the documents as anywhere else. I was at the plant."
Adams believes the government doesn't want to retrieve the buried records because they would bolster workers' cases, thus forcing the feds to pay more claims.
"It's a hornet's nest," he said. "There's a world of information in those documents. They don't want them dug up."