Some rejected claims from ill Hanford workers could be reconsidered under a new policy of a federal program that provides medical coverage and compensation for those harmed by exposure to toxins.
The rule was recommended by the new Department of Labor Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, which met in the Tri-Cities for the first time this week.
It is one of several recommendations of the board in its initial year of work, but the only one approved to date. More could be approved when the new administration has a secretary of labor in place.
The Department of Labor expectation has been that exposures to toxic chemicals after 1995 at Department of Energy sites, including the Hanford nuclear reservation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have been within regulatory limits set to keep workers safe unless other evidence was available. The policy was announced in 2015.
But at the recommendation of the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, an industrial hygienist now will review information for each claim. The expert will look at information such as where an employee worked at Hanford and what toxins could be there, and also will review Department of Energy records.
The new policy was adopted in February.
Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program provides medical benefits and up to $250,000 for wage loss and impairment because of any illness caused by exposure to workplace radiation or toxins.
The Department of Labor will find the cases that have been denied that could be affected by the change, so new claims do not need to be filed, said Rachel Leiton, director of the department’s Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation.
The claims are in the portion of the compensation program called “Part E,” which provides payments of up to $250,000 for wage loss and impairment because of an illness caused by either work force radiation or to toxic substances, such as chemicals, solvents, acids and metals.
Current and former workers may also have related medical expenses paid. If the worker has died, a survivor may receive up to $125,000 in compensation.
The Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health includes five scientists, five medical professionals and five worker advocates. It provides recommendations to the labor secretary mostly on Part E, but also on lung diseases, such as chronic beryllium disease, covered by Part B of the program.
Part B also covers cancers caused by radiation exposure at DOE sites. Current or former workers or their survivors with approved Part B claims may receive $150,000 in compensation, plus coverage of cancer-related medical expenses.
Part B of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program provides medical benefits and $150,000 in compensation for cancer caused by radiation and for certain lung diseases, such as chronic beryllium disease.
If radiation exposures cannot be adequately estimated for groups of workers, they may be automatically eligible for the compensation for any of 22 cancers that have been linked to radiation exposure. There are certain limitations, including a requirement that they worked at Hanford for certain other sites for a total of 250 days.
Other workers face a higher bar for compensation approvals. Officials estimate their radiation exposure and must find it was high enough that it was as likely as not that it caused a worker’s cancer.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is continuing to look at data to see if the automatic compensation should be extended through 1990 for all Hanford workers, said officials at a public meeting on the ill workers compensation program Thursday in Pasco.
Department of Labor afternoon and evening town hall meetings in Pasco on the compensation program were attended by about 130 people.
No decision has been made on further easing of the rules for workers with cancer that may have been caused by radiation. But if automatic compensation is extended through 1990, workers would be more likely to be compensated, including workers who have been previously denied compensation.
To date, Hanford and PNNL workers or their survivors have received $1.6 billion through Part B and Part E of the compensation program, both in direct compensation and for medical care.
To apply for compensation, contact the Hanford Resource Center in Richland at 509-946-3333.