The compensation rules for some Hanford construction workers and subcontractor workers who developed cancer could be eased in about three months.
The federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend a “special exposure cohort” designation for employees of Hanford construction contractors from 1984 through 1990 and any subcontractor during that period.
The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program pays $150,000 to Hanford workers or their survivors if workers had cancer likely caused by radiation exposure at Hanford. The program also pays medical costs related to the cancer after a claim is approved.
The law establishing the program requires that radiation exposure be estimated to determine if it likely caused cancer. If too little information is available to estimate exposure for groups of workers, they may be designated a special exposure cohort with eased rules.
They can be automatically compensated if they were employed for at least 250 days at Hanford and then developed certain cancers that medical research has linked to radiation exposure.
The advisory board, which meets in Richland this week, next will send a letter to the secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who must accept the recommendation. If Congress does not object within 30 days, the special exposure cohort designation becomes final.
The process takes about three months. Then any previously denied claims for people in the special exposure cohort will be screened to see if they qualify for compensation under the eased rules.
Hanford already has the eased claim process for most Hanford employees from Oct. 1, 1943, through 1983.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended the additional special exposure cohort be approved after questioning whether adequate radiation monitoring was done for construction workers after 1983 through the end of 1990.
J.A. Jones Construction Services held the Hanford contract for construction work from 1984 through Feb. 28, 1987, followed by Kaiser Engineers Hanford from March 1, 1987 through the end of 1990.
Their employees were assigned a broad range of work to support research, fuel handling, plutonium processing, decontamination and decommissioning, and reactor outages at Hanford. They worked in N Reactor, the PUREX reprocessing facilities, laboratories and the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
J.A. Jones appeared to do little monitoring of workers’ internal radiation, which can be done by testing workers’ urine samples. Sometimes samples would be collected and analyzed before workers started a job, but not when the job was completed, said Samuel Glover of the NIOSH Division of Compensation Analysis and Support.
When Kaiser took over the construction contract in March 1987, it was with a plan to improve worker monitoring. But a budget shortfall caused the monitoring improvements to be delayed. Not until 1991 did internal radiation monitoring for construction workers become adequate for workers’ radiation exposure to be estimated by the compensation program, according to a NIOSH report.
Hanford prime contractors during the years that would be covered by the possible new exposure cohort were responsible for their own radiological control programs.
It is unclear now who was responsible for subcontractor employees from 1984 through 1990 and they are being included in the special exposure cohort. It also is not clear which subcontracted employees performed construction work.
J.A. Jones and Kaiser each had a small group of permanent employees they supplemented with other employees, Glover said.
Hanford had 300,000 subcontractors during its history, some of them single-person companies, Glover said. From 1984 through 1990, there may have been 60,000 subcontractors.
The special exposure cohort recommended Wednesday does not include Department of Energy workers or the workers for prime contractors. The excluded contractors include Battelle, Westinghouse and Hanford Environmental Health Foundation from 1984 through 199,0 and Rockwell Hanford Operations, UNC Nuclear Industries and Boeing Computer Services Richland from 1984 through June 28, 1987.
The cancers covered by special exposure cohorts, with some restrictions, include bone and renal cancer, some leukemias, lung cancer, multiple myeloma, some lymphomas, and primary cancers of the bile ducts, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, liver, ovary, pancreas, pharynx, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid and bladder.
Employees of Kaiser, J.A. Jones and subcontractors who developed cancers not covered by the special exposure cohort may still apply for compensation, and their exposure will be estimated to determine if it likely caused the cancer. The companies did keep records on external radiation exposure.
However, one former subcontractor attending the Richland meeting questioned the reliability of those records. He always left his badge with a dosimeter in his car because it would swing on its cord and get caught if he worked, he said.
NIOSH is continuing to look at whether there is adequate information to estimate radiation exposure for other groups of workers after 1983.
Knut Ringen, of the Center for Construction Research and Training, told the advisory board the process is taking too long.
“These are old workers. They are frail and sick workers. The process has to speed up,” he said.
More information on how to file a claim is available by calling the Richland Resource Center at 509-946-3333 or 888-654-0014.