FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 23, 2004
Schumer Urges Feds To Build A Resource Center In Western Ny To Help Nuclear Workers With Their Claim Applications
Despite being home to scores of nuclear workers suffering from cancer due to the government's negligence, Western NY continues to be severely under-served by the feds' compensation program; Only 10 % of WNY claims have been paid out
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today implored the top federal officials responsible for overseeing the compensation program for cancer-struck nuclear workers to establish a new resource center Western New York as soon as possible to help sick workers with their compensation applications. Schumer lambasted the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) for only paying out ten percent of claims to New York nuclear workers and said that action is needed immediately to assist local nuclear workers with the application process.
"It boggles the mind that after these men and women got dangerously ill from helping develop the country's nuclear weapons program, the federal government would turn its back on them," Schumer said. "We have New Yorkers literally dying off as they wait for these payments that were promised to them. There is no one here to help them file their claims so they can get the compensation they deserve and former nuclear workers in Western New York deserve a lot better."
During World War II and at the start of the Cold War, the federal government lacked the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons in federal facilities and turned to the private sector for help. Workers at these facilities handled high levels of radioactive materials and were responsible for helping to create the huge nuclear arsenal that served as a deterrent to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Although government scientists knew of the dangers posed by the radiation, workers were given little or no protection and many have been diagnosed with cancer.
In an effort to compensate these workers, Congress passed legislation in 2000 that allowed them to file claims with the US Department of Labor for individual payments of $150,000 and other benefits for medical treatments. Workers who contracted radioactive cancer, beryllium disease or chronic silicosis after working at sites that performed nuclear weapons work during World War II and the Cold War were eligible. To file a claim, patients or their surviving families needed to provide proper documentation of their illness and employment history.
The Western New York region, including Western Pennsylvania, has the fourth highest concentration of these claims filed with the Department of Labor in comparison to those filed at existing resource centers nationwide. As of February 1, 2004 there were 3,771 Subtitle B applications submitted to the Department of Labor for review from this area alone. This number exceeds the number of claims filed at areas that do have resource centers already, such as Hanford, WA; Portsmouth, OH; Los Alamos, NM; Rocky Flats, CO; Idaho National Labs and Amchitka Test Site in Alaska. Western New York is home to 14 former Atomic Weapon Employers (AWE) sites and DOE clean up facilities (see below).
Even though Western New York has a large number of facilities, the only assistance applicants in the region now receive to wade through layers of red tape is from a traveling resource center that comes to the area infrequently to serve current and former nuclear workers. EEOICPA Section 3631 requires DOL to provide outreach and claimant assistance. Schumer said that a permanent facility is needed in Western New York, not only to increase awareness of the program among area residents, but to help serve workers throughout the clamaint process. A resource center assists workers in filing claims, gathering information about their work history, and other work related records necessary to file a claim for review. Ten resource centers have been set up by DOE and the Department of Labor (DOL) near DOE facilities across the country to help workers file applications.
"Despite having one of the greatest concentrations of facilities involved in nuclear weapons production-related activities in the nation, Western New York, and abutting areas of Pennsylvania, continue to be severely underserved by the EEOICP," Schumer wrote in a letter today to federal Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Labor Secretary Mary Chao. "The establishment of a permanent resource center in Western New York would represent a substantial step toward improving EEOICP services for workers in this region."
People affected worked at Electro Metallurgical (Niagara Falls), Hooker Electrochemical (Niagara Falls), Carborundum Company (Niagara Falls), Lake Ontario Ordinance Works (Niagara Falls), Simonds Saw and Steel Co (Lockport), Titanium Alloys Manufacturing (Niagara Falls), Ashland Oil (Tonawanda), Bethlehem Steel (Lackawanna), Bliss and Laughlin Steel (Buffalo), Linde Air Products (Buffalo), Linde Ceramics Plant (Tonawanda), Seaway Industrial Park (Tonawanda), Utica St. Warehouse (Buffalo), the West Valley Demonstration Project (West Valley).
California was recently awarded a resource center as part of the Fiscal Year 2004 Energy Appropriations bill that was signed into law. The bill says it is to be established within 120 days of enactment of the legislation, or by the beginning of April.