Nuclear Weapons Facilities
April 2002 IBEW Journal
Because theres a lot we know now that we didnt know then, the U.S. government is playing catchuptrying to find and compensate workers who suffered illnesses working in U.S. nuclear defense facilities over the past half century.
Savannah River site high level mix waste storage
The new benefits are available to workers who are seriously ill as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica while working for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) or its contractors in the nuclear weapons industry.
The program is called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). It was enacted in October 2000, went into effect July 31, 2001, and Congress has since broadened the definition of survivors eligible for benefits.
Construction of atomic weapons plants (such as those at Paducah, Kentucky; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina; and elsewhere) took place in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Maintenance and upgrade of the DOE sites continued over following decades.
IBEW members from many locals around the country worked at the weapons plants. One of them is Gary Seay, business manager of IBEW Local 816, Paducah, Kentucky, who has been diagnosed with cancer. Some 20,000 construction workers helped build the DOE Atomic Energy Plant in Paducah that was completed in 1955, Seay said.
"In 1976, Local 816 had about 150 electricians working on major electrical upgrades at the Paducah site," said Seay. "We had no idea of the hazards that existed. Many local union members have come down with cancer."
Seay said that at Local 816 alone, he knows of at least 25 IBEW members who worked at the Paducah site and have been diagnosed with cancer. The local has contacted these members (or their survivors) to inform them of the compensation program, and the local plans to place a notice about it in the local paper and hold a seminar for members on how to submit claims.
The Federal Claims Program
The U.S. Department of Labor, which administers the program, says workers may be eligible if they contracted cancer, beryllium sensitivity, chronic beryllium disease or chronic silicosis and they were exposed to radiation, beryllium or silica while on the job. Work must have been performed for the Department of Energy, including its contractors, subcontractors, beryllium vendors and atomic weapons facilities.
Uranium miners, millers and ore transporters who were awarded benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) may be eligible for an additional $50,000 compensation under EEOICPA. Those with beryllium sensitivity may receive medical monitoring.
State Workers Compensation Claims
For DOE workers with other illnesses caused by toxic exposures at work and not covered by the DOL program, the law sets up an alternative route to compensation through state workers compensation programs. Such illnesses could include: asbestosis, liver disease, nervous system disorders, non-cancerous respiratory or kidney disease, and certain reproductive disorders.
Building Trades Medical Screening Program
The Building Trades Medical Screening Program, a separate program in effect since 1993, provides former DOE nuclear defense facility construction workers with a free physical examination. If a covered disease is diagnosed, the patient is referred to the EEOICPA program. For information about the screening program, funded by DOE and coordinated through the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, call (800) 866-9663 or (866) 812-6703.
How to Get Help
Claimants may contact an Energy Employees Compensation Resource Center (see list below) for information and help with filing claims. The centers are co-sponsored by the DOE and DOL. Claim forms are also available on the DOL Web site at www.dol.gov.