Thursday, March 19, 1998
A Fernald health chronology

1951: Construction begins on the Fernald Feed Materials Plant about 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati. The giant complex will employ more than 7,000 people to process uranium ore into fuel for atomic bomb production.

1984: The Department of Energy admits that radioactive leaks have contaminated off-site residential wells. Neighbors later learn that plant officials had known about the contamination since 1981.

1988: Production ceases at Fernald.

1989: Fernald closes and becomes a national Superfund cleanup site. Meanwhile, a class-action lawsuit for Fernald neighbors is settled for $78 million. The money is for lost property value, emotional distress and long-term medical monitoring. The case was based on public fear of health damage, not actual illnesses. By 1996, more than 9,400 people had been tested. The federal government also agreed to pay for installing municipal water service to people depending on well water.

1994: Fernald workers' class-action suit is settled for $15 million, the first legal victory by any group of atomic workers. The settlement is to pay for emotional distress plus lifelong medical monitoring. Individuals are also free to pursue workers' compensation claims.

June 1996: A government study concludes that Fernald workers suffered higher-than-average death rates from lung cancer and respiratory disease because of radiation exposure.

August 1996: A six-year, $4 million dose-reconstruction study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that longtime nearby residents faced increased cancer risk from Fernald. The results surprise experts because radon gas from K-65 silos is cited as the biggest health risk, rather than uranium dust in the air or groundwater.

February 1997: A 14-member National Research Council committee challenges the dose study, saying it overestimated cancer risks. But a few months later, the council withdraws its criticism.

March 18, 1998: The CDC releases the first-ever estimate of how many Fernald neighbors might have developed cancer. Experts note that the study is based on mathematical models, not actual counts of people with cancer.