As the last DOE manager during Hanford operations, I was ultimately responsible for worker safety. Hanford workers, in fact, had fewer cancer deaths than the general population.
This was attributed to “the healthy worker syndrome,” whereby Hanford workers have better access to health care than the general public. While this would explain why fewer Hanford workers died from cancer, it does not explain why Hanford workers had less of all types of cancer except multiple myeloma. A growing number of health physicists believe this could be due to a vaccine-like effect from low-level exposure.
Whatever the reason, it certainly isn’t consistent with the impression based upon sympathetic yet anecdotal stories in the recent McClatchy series on radiation workers. The authors never compare the incidence of cancer in radiation workers to the general public. Had they done so, it would have contradicted the basic premise. Putting radiation workers in perspective to the general public was essential to the story, and the writers failed to do so.
Mike Lawrence, West Richland
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