Jul 29, 2008

Department of Labor responds to 'Deadly Denial' series - if you can call it a response

Forty-five days after the Rocky's Laura Frank sent the Department of Labor the findings of our 'Deadly Denial' series for comment, she finally received a response - an e-mail apparently sent at 9:41 p.m. Friday night that can only be described as a personal attack.

It's bizarre that a top official with the federal government would send such an e-mail as the first response to an in-depth investigation. I think it reveals the attitude of the department when it comes to accountability for this program. By the way, the e-mail came 45 days after a formal, written request for comment. But it came more than two months after a request for a formal interview with the official in charge, Shelby Hallmark.

Here's the Labor Department e-mail.
From: James, David - OPA [mailto:James.David@dol.gov]
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2008 7:41 PM
To: Frank, Laura
Cc: metro@rockymountiannews.com
Subject: Shelby, etc


Steadily your pieces have omitted much information and consistently demonstrate a lack of knowledge of jurisdictional boundaries between federal agencies and do not serve your readers and the affected workers in your region in a positive way. Time and again we have tried to work with you in the most candid way possible. And time and again you have inserted wrong information and or opinion into your pieces - or have chosen not to learn basic facts. For example I still do not think you know the difference between NIOSH and the DOL, something which every time we thought you understood, your copy did not reflect that. This Department does everything it can to help sick workers in this country and gets generally positive feedback for its work.

That said, to the self-fulfilling prophecy you have tried to create in your coverage regarding Mr. Hallmark, here is a statement on the record:

"Shelby Hallmark is and will be the head of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. Rumors, suggestions, and questions to the contrary by the Rocky Mountain News, and only by Rocky Mountain News reporter Laura Frank are false and continue the run of sloppy journalism by this reporter which has instilled unnecessary fears in the affected communities."

-David James

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs

Hopefully now you do not need to call through out building and around the Hill for this obvious answer.
Here's Laura's response
From: Frank, Laura
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 12:35 PM
To: 'James, David - OPA'
Subject: RE: Shelby, etc

Monday, July 28, 2008

David James
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs
Via e-mail: James.David@dol.gov


I received the e-mail you sent at 9:41 Friday night. As you know, some members of Congress are concerned that the Labor Department is not responding to questions about the way your department is administering the compensation program for sick nuclear weapons workers. I am copying some Congressional offices on this e-mail so they will be aware of your response.

In your Friday night e-mail, you said DOL had been "candid" with the Rocky Mountain News. In the spirit of candidness, please answer the following questions, many of which are still pending 48 days after the Rocky first sent DOL details of our investigation into the compensation program. If you need it, more context on these issues can be found at www.RockyMountainNews.com/special-reports/deadly-denial

1. Why doesn't DOL recognize well-established toxic links to certain diseases on what claimants have come to call the "no pay" list or in DOL's site exposure matrices?

2. Why doesn't DOL tell claimants which toxic substances its data show they (or their claimed worker) were exposed to?

3. Why hasn't DOL done anything to accommodate sick Navajo uranium workers or others who are too ill to take the required tests to prove they're sick enough for compensation?

4. Why is DOL withholding from claimants the health physics reports it uses to deny their claims?

5. Please explain the difference between the 15,000 paid claims DOL cited in a statement to the Rocky Mountain News and the 42,000 paid claims listed on your website.

6. Please tell us how many "director's orders" to rework/reopen claims were issued for each type of cancer, for each site and for each year.

7. How many claims were paid on the claimant's first attempt at compensation (with no recommended decision to deny)? How many were paid on each of the second, third and subsequent tries?

8. Please tell us the number of times any DOL official has asked that a claimant or potential claimant be put under any type of surveillance or "undercover"/unannounced observation, and whether that observation occurred.

Your e-mail also referenced concern that I do not understand the difference in roles between NIOSH and DOL. If you could point out a place in our series where those roles are incorrect, we would be happy to correct it.


Laura Frank
Rocky Mountain News
101 W. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80202
Final thoughts

Why doesn't the department deal with the substance of the series?


Anonymous said...

This post has been up for 24 hours and what's the LANL workforce reaction thus far?

Oh so typical. Who gives a damn if the person next to us is dying of cancer or whatever, just so long as nobody yanks the federal tit from our collective mouths. Heaven forbid we should even show sympathy! No, let's just leave our chest-thumping hypocrisy for Sunday mass.

Anonymous said...

My problem here is that while I do not trust the government, I certainly do not trust the media to be accurate or honest.

Anonymous said...

I read the piece. Lot's of allegations. Little comparative assessment. Cancer and disease occur everywhere. A tragedy, every time. How much was due to work at these sites? That's hard to say.

Most studies conclude little if any impact. Some studies (Plutonium Workers Study, for example) show positive impacts to health. Some show very specific cancers (bone, brain are elevated, but the sample sizes are so small such as the bone cancer case - a single case - that there's just not enough info to prove anything).

Arcane assumptions turn out to be the key thing in these types of assessments, such as linear-dose vs. threshold models. And you never see an assessment of secondary and tertiary risks. After, how many deaths were prevented worldwide due to avoidance of major super-power war? Certainly a component of risk in the big picture.

I'm a skeptic about this stuff, and I've lived within 1.5 miles of the various plutonium facilities at LANL for over 30 years. Yes, I'm concerned. No, I don't believe everything I read in the press. I see too-many inaccuracies of things I have first-hand knowledge of to put credence in this mostly anecdotal stories.

I have sympathy, just as I have sympathy for all those suffering from ailments and disease.

Anonymous said...

So 6:14 substitutes his anecdotes for the 'deadly denial' anecdotes.

I'll echo what I said on another thread.

There is anecdotal evidence that there are problems. The statistical evidence is held closely by organizations who could clear up all doubt if they chose to release information.

Getting information from the DOE sites is next to impossible. So there is almost no way to tell what has happened. However, the people withholding information have an interest in sowing doubt.

Normally, an absence of evidence does not allow conclusions to be drawn. In this case, an absence of evidence caused by an interested party does suggest that there is something up.

Anonymous said...

Yawn. This used to be a semi-interesting blog. Looks like that has changed. Judging from the lack of comments, it looks like a lot of people agree.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss something? I didn't seen any anecdotes in the post from 6:14. What were you talking about?

Anonymous said...

If you keep publishing photos of attractive women, I might start coming back to this blog once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. She is hot.

Frank Young said...

Be honest now, the real reason you like her is not because she is attractive or because she writes well. It's because her name is Laura Frank, right?

Anonymous said...

Could we get a photo of you then young Frank, preferably in a bikini?

Anonymous said...

Agree with 6:14. Especially relevant was Ben Ortiz who welded with Cd and Pb solder and used chemical solvents. Twenty years ago, chemical safety (and radiological)was different, health effects unknown. I'm not a welder, but it would be interesting to find out from the old-timers if using this type of solder was common practice, not only at LANL but in commercial applications and/or other industries.

Similarly, I remember my dad telling me that while he was in grad school (late 1960's), it was common practice to wash their hands in benzene. Clearly now benzene is categorized a carcinogen, back then, no.

Frank Young said...

"Could we get a photo of you then young Frank, preferably in a bikini?"

Be careful what you wish for!

Anonymous said...

She's pretty!

Frank Young said...

Laura Frank made a guest appearance on Colorado Public Television station KBDI to discuss the Deadly Denial series. The program is called Studio 12 and can be viewed on the web here.