Sunday, September 19, 1999

Workers opposed to settlement

Nuclear plant deal doesn't offer enough, many at Mound say

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Four years after they sued operators of the Mound nuclear weapons plant in Miamisburg, Ohio, many workers are opposing the proposed settlement.

        More than 600 — about 10 percent of those covered by the accord — complain the deal would enrich too few and do too little for too many.

        They want a more generous settlement or the freedom to sue on their own.

        Lawyers representing the objectors plan to press their case on Sept. 24, when U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice in Dayton examines the fairness of the settlement.

        The 1995 class action says company officials intentionally overexposed possibly 6,000 workers to deadly plutonium and other radioactive materials and hid the risks for decades.

        Babcock & Wilcox of Ohio, which manages Mound now, is not a defendant.

        The suit names Monsanto Research Corp., which ran the facility from 1948 to 1988, and its immediate successor, EG&G Mound Applied Technologies Inc.

        The facility is a U.S. Department of Energy plant, and DOE is the primary player in most of the changes promised in the settlement:

        • Up to $200,000 for three years of primary health insurance for uninsured workers suffering specific job-related health conditions and a promise to seek more funding from Congress.

        • A promise to support workers' compensation claims for the lung diseases berylliosis and asbestosis.

        • Enhanced radiation monitoring and better estimates of employees' past exposures.

        • An independent expert's assessment of Mound safety practices.

        • $926,000 to be divided among current Mound employees after 12 original plaintiffs in the class action receive incentive fees up to $16,500.

        • $180,000 for attorney fees.

        Last week, Reuben Guttman, lead attorney for the class action, was proudest of the “fundamentally important” first two pledges.

        Objections were filed recently by attorneys Louise M. Roselle and Paul M. DeMarco of Stanley M. Chesley's Cincinnati law firm.

        Rather than mandatory participation in what they say is an inadequate settlement, objectors want an opportunity to opt out and sue on their own. They also complain that the accord would bar them from suing firms involved at Mound who are not defendants in the class action.

        Defendants want a mandatory class — everyone who might ever sue over the same issues — to end the litigation and attendant costs.

        The class action was filed on behalf of past and current employees and representatives of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union who spent time at Mound.

        Union policy analyst Richard D. Miller said the settlement was worth more than $12 million, including the estimated $1.3 million cash outlay and in-kind contributions by DOE. “From our point of view, it's a huge accomplishment.”

        Mr. Miller agreed that Congress could refuse to fund health insurance after three years, but, “politically, it's going to be very tough for the Ohio delegation to walk away from it.”

        In addition to research and development, Mound made triggers and detonators for nuclear weapons at the 306-acre facility.

        The complaint at Mound follows one against NLO Inc., the company that managed the government's former Fernald uranium processing plant in northwest Hamilton County for more than 30 years.

        Represented by Mr. Chesley and his colleagues, current and former Fernald workers won about $20 million, largely for lifelong medical monitoring and compensation for anxiety caused by revelations of radiation risks and fears of cancers.

        That accord didn't require NLO/DOE to support workers' comp claims. Rather, it barred DOE/NLO from opposing claims cleared by a court-approved panel of physicians.

        However, no money was paid for health insurance or treatment of illnesses blamed on exposures at Fernald.

        Mr. Guttman said his clients' response to medical monitoring was “big deal.” If they are suffering work-related illnesses, they want health insurance and care, not more data, he said.

        “The health insurance is the best thing in this proposed settlement, but not as it stands now,” retiree Robert L. Ryan of Hamilton-New London Road in Ross Township wrote to the judge. “The health insurance should and must be totally LIFETIME and not just for the next three years.”

        Mr. Ryan said he was exposed to more than a lifetime allowed dose of plutonium and assigned to work with other radioactive materials for years although his medical records indicated that further exposure was prohibited.


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