Pat Lohmann, The Daily Lobo
Sammy Hayes could barely hold back tears when she spoke of her late husband, a former employee at Los Alamos National Laboratories.
"When you watch somebody you love die, you want to take somebody out and wring their neck because you know in your heart they were exposed to stuff that causes three separate cancers," she said.
Hayes appealed to the national Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health on Thursday at the Doubletree Hotel, in regards to her husband's death in 2005 of cancer-related complications.
Claimants from Los Alamos National Laboratories appealed for work-related injury compensation from the federal government, seeking reparations after allegedly being exposed to radioactive materials and other hazardous substances.
Jeff Berger, spokesman for LANL, said the laboratory is not involved in the case.
"The only comment we have is what you're asking about is a worker compensation program that is administered entirely by the Department of Labor and the Department of Energy, and so it's not our program," he said.
Former LANL employees and their relatives appealed to the board for Special Exposure Cohort classification, as opposed to Dose Reconstruction. Both classifications are defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. The claimants have not yet been classified as a case of either SEC or Dose Reconstruction.
LANL employee Andrew Evaskovich, the primary petitioner, said the claimants would like to be classified in SEC, because an SEC classification provides for a quicker compensation process than Dose Reconstruction. Dose Reconstruction requires a comprehensive analysis of records to determine whether employees were exposed to radioactive material.
If compensation is awarded to the 331 claimants, either through SEC or Dose Reconstruction, they can receive up to $400,000 in lost wages and other medical expenses, and $150,000 is given automatically, Evaskovich said.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, on behalf of the secretary of Health and Human Services, heard testimonials from government officials and relatives of former and current employees. NIOSH will decide the means through which compensation might be awarded.
Evaskovich said that the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act was passed in 2000 when Gov. Bill Richardson was secretary of Energy.
"In order to compensate somebody who has a cancer caused by radiation, they tasked NIOSH to determine what their dose was and what the probability of the causation was," he said.
Evaskovich said that many of the records collected between 1976 and 2005 - the period in question - are incomplete, warranting an automatic SEC classification.
"They also determined when they wrote the law that if a site doesn't have sufficient records, then Dose Reconstruction would not be necessary and they would add what's called a 'class' to the Special Exposure Cohort,'" he said.
The Dose Reconstruction process determines the dosage a person received, Evaskovich said, and the Department of Labor calculates a probability of exposure. If the probability of exposure is over 50 percent, compensation is awarded.
Loretta Valerio, director of the Office of Nuclear Workers' Advocacy, said the SEC status is preferable to the Dose Reconstruction because it eliminates the painstaking review of records.
"The impact (SEC) would have on many of these claimants who have previously been denied - once this petition is accepted and added to the class of employees - then that whole Dose Reconstruction process just goes away and they're compensated automatically," she said. "The acceptance of this petition would eliminate the waiting and the uncertainties."
Hayes' husband's claim for compensation in the past was denied after a Dose Reconstruction, but she said the data compiled for the analysis was faulty and inconclusive.
"They denied his claim, and they could never, ever explain exactly why they denied it. They had all these charts that nobody but them could read," Hayes said. "NIOSH is in the business of guesstimating; they call it probabilities. It's guessing, and they cannot prove that it's not."
Hayes said her husband performed a variety of hazardous duties and was exposed to uranium, beryllium and lithium during his employment.
"He was exposed to all of this stuff - the cleaning fluids, the radiation, and all of the nasty stuff that was there," she said.