Washington's senators have asked for an independent review of the federal program that compensates Hanford workers made ill by exposure to radiation or hazardous chemicals.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., signed a letter with four other Democratic senators Thursday asking the solicitor of the Department of Labor, M. Patricia Smith, to review the department's implementation of the Ene-rgy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.
Under the act, employees of Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory or their survivors have received $742 million in compensation and medical bill coverage.
But the senators believe concerns about the program have not adequately been addressed.
"While we understand the difficulties posed to the Department of Labor and Department of Energy in carrying out this program, we believe that the men and women who were exposed to radiation and toxins at our nation's nuclear facilities deserve to have their claims evaluated in a fair and equitable manner," the letter said.
It also was signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Harry Reid of Nevada and Mark Udall of Colorado.
In June, Cantwell and Murray sent a letter to DOE and the Department of Labor urging them to fix inefficiencies they believed were slowing down claims processing.
They referred to a June Government Accountability Office report that identified problems such as incomplete or missing employment and health records for those filing claims and restrictions on DOE site information.
In addition, new scientific information linking chemical exposures to cancer and difficulties in estimating exposure to radiation have added to slow processing, the GAO said.
Compensation claims have taken an average of three years to process if radiation exposure must be estimated, the GAO said.
Since the GAO report was issued, the Department of Labor has posted a new interactive system on the internet at www.sem.dol.gov to help former employees of Hanford and PNNL understand what hazardous and radioactive materials they were exposed to on the job.
The program provides $150,000 to Hanford workers or their survivors if radiation caused cancer or beryllium caused a rare lung disease.
In addition, workers or survivors may receive up to $250,000 for impairment or lost wages because of any of a variety of illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals or radiation. Medical expenses also are paid.
For more information about the compensation program, call the Hanford Resource Center at 946-3333 or 888-654-0014.