Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Panel hears from workers

Radiation exposure focus of testimony

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Mike Gibson, who worked 15 years as an electrician at the Department of Energy's Mound Plant, says the extent of radiation exposure he received may never be known.

        He and other workers were improperly tested for exposure to radiation, Mr. Gibson on Monday told a special congressional panel looking at proposals to compensate people made ill by their work during the Cold War.

        In addition, workers were never tested for exposure to another type of radioactive material, he said. While the improper testing could be reviewed, the latter exposure will never be known, Mr. Gibson said.

        “They sent us into areas and did not tell us this isotope was there, they did not provide any protection, they did not take any worker samples to determine the dose,” said Mr. Gibson, who now works full time for the union representing workers at the Mound Plant, a former trigger-making facility near Miamisburg.

        Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, held the hearing to record testimony on proposed legislation to compensate workers in Ohio and other states sickened by exposure to radiation, beryllium and other hazardous materials as they worked on Cold War weapons.

        This month, lawmakers from states with weapons plants introduced the proposal to offer at least $200,000 apiece to cancer-stricken bomb factory workers, double the Clinton administration's request.

        The bill, proposed by Sen. George Voinovich, also an Ohio Republican, would give the Labor Department oversight of compensation, taking it out of the hands of the Department of Energy.

        The administration's plan gives special consideration to uranium-enrichment plant employees applying for benefits. The plants are in Piketon, Paducah, Ky., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

        The administration proposed payments of $100,000 to each worker, or to survivors of deceased workers, but left open the possibility of bigger awards for those proving their past out-of-pocket medical costs and showing they worked in an area with known contamination.

        The goal of Monday's hearing was to talk more about what happened to workers exposed to radiation and beryllium, a metal once used in weapons production and linked to a potentially fatal lung disease.

        “Part of what we're trying to do now in Congress is explain to people on the appropriate committees what was the problem,” Mr. DeWine said. “If you don't understand the problem, you'll never get to the second part, which is the solution.”

        Mr. Gibson, 41, of Franklin, backs the Voinovich proposal because it would place the burden of proof on the government, not the workers.

        “I would do my job over again, but I believe there'd be informed consent as to what's going on — give me the choice, instead of put me in the position where I don't know what my future holds now,” he said.


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