More ill Hanford, PNNL workers may be paid

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 20, 2012 

A compensation program for ill nuclear workers won key approval Tuesday to ease rules for $150,000 payments to additional Hanford workers or their survivors.

A federal advisory board meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., voted to recommend that the eased rules, which are allowed for groups designated special exposure cohorts, be extended to workers at the site through 1983.

The current special exposure cohort, which allows compensation for workers for about 22 cancers that medical research has linked to radiation exposure, covers Hanford workers who were at the nuclear reservation from Oct. 1, 1943, through June 30, 1972. It also covers Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers for those years.

The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health will send its recommendation in support of the expanded special exposure cohort to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who is expected to approve the recommendation.

Then Congress would have 30 days to review the proposal, and if it takes no action within 30 days, the special exposure cohort would take effect.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program has received 4,479 claims from ill Hanford and PNNL workers for the years covered by the proposed expansion of the special exposure cohort.

Some of those workers have received compensation because an estimate of the radiation dose they received at work was high enough that there was at least a 50 percent chance it caused their cancer.

However, the advisory board agreed Tuesday that radiation doses could not be adequately compensated, so cases that have been denied could be reopened.

Under a special exposure cohort, workers who were employed at least 250 days at Hanford or PNNL from World War II through 1983 would be eligible for automatic compensation if they developed certain cancers. A reconstruction of their radiation exposure would not be required to show they received enough radiation to likely cause the cancer.

The covered cancers, with some restrictions, include bone cancer, renal cancer, some leukemias, lung cancer, multiple myeloma, some lymphomas and primary cancers of bile ducts, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, liver, ovary, pancreas, pharynx, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid and bladder.

The internal exposure to neptunium, thorium, uranium 233 and highly enriched uranium could not be estimated using records, which include monitoring done before 1984, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded.

From World War II through the Cold War, Hanford produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program. In addition, other specialized work was done there, including separating neptunium from waste to irradiate for production of plutonium 238, which is used for power on deep space flights.

Thorium was used at Hanford to help control nuclear reactions and also was used in two campaigns to produce uranium 233.

Some work with those isotopes continued after 1972, including packaging and shipment of 350 tons of thorium off Hanford, and continued reactor fuels research with thorium. The Thorium Oxide Fuel Development Laboratory was completed in 1979 in Hanford's 300 Area.

Neptunium was used in defense-related metallurgical work in central Hanford and in fuels development and other research in the 300 Area after 1972, said Sam Glover, NIOSH research health scientist.

Yet just four bioassay measurements were made from 1972 to 1983, all on the same day, plus a check for neptunium in a wound, he said.

Monitoring for uranium up to 1983 was not adequate to cover some of the types of work and research conducted at Hanford after 1972, Glover said. That included criticality testing and associated fabrication of highly enriched uranium in the Hanford 300 Area.

The proposed expansion of the special exposure cohort would cover contractor and subcontractor workers across the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Those who qualify for compensation also would receive medical coverage.

The change could affect some workers or survivors who have had claims denied, those who have claims in process and workers who may later develop cancers and file a claim. As other special exposure cohorts have been approved, previous claims have been checked for eligibility under eased rules without a new claim having to be filed.

NIOSH is continuing to look at whether the special exposure cohort also should be extended from 1984 to 1990.

For more information on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, call the Hanford Resource Center at 946-3333 or 888-654-0014.

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