FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 1, 2008

To Honor Western New York Cold War Hero, Ed Walker, Schumer Re-Introduces Bethlehem Steel Workers Legislation As "The Ed Walker Memorial Act"


Bill Extends Compensation to Workers Exposed to Radiation, Whose Exposure Records May Be Incomplete or Lacking Proper Documentation

Schumer Re-Introduces Bill In Honor of Ed Walker's Tireless Efforts to Bring Justice and Deserved Compensation to Bethlehem Steel Workers

Schumer: "The Ed Walker Memorial Act" will Correct Years of Injustice for Western New York's Nuclear Workers

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he is re-introducing his Bethlehem Steel workers legislation as “The Ed Walker Memorial Act,” to honor the Western NY native Ed Walker who passed away earlier this week. Ed Walker founded the Bethlehem Steel Action Group, the driving force behind bringing justice and compensation to former Bethlehem Steel workers who experienced radiation-related health complications after working at the Lackawanna steel plant during the Cold War in America’s nuclear program.

 

In honor of Ed Walker’s heroic and tireless efforts, Schumer today announced that he is re-introducing existing legislation to bring compensation to former Bethlehem Steel workers as the "The Ed Walker Memorial Act” for Improvements to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.” The legislation works to reform the compensation program for nuclear workers at Bethlehem Steel and other former New York atomic weapons production facilities.

 

“Ed Walker’s tireless work on behalf of former Bethlehem Steel workers was an inspiration to everyone he encountered and this legislation wouldn’t exist today without his Herculean efforts,” said Senator Schumer. “The Ed Walker Memorial Act” will correct years of injustice for Western New York’s nuclear workers. These Cold War heroes became dangerously ill developing the country's nuclear weapons program, and should not have to wait a minute longer for help.”

 

"The Ed Walker Memorial Act for Improvements to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program would enable employees to be added to a “special exposure cohort” and receive compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program if exposure records do not enable case-by-case decisions to be made.

 

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.

 

Ed Walker worked at Bethlehem Steel from 1951 to 1954. After graduating high school, he became an apprentice bricklayer and member of the “hot team,” a group of workers who patched holes in the company’s furnaces. He served for two years in the army and then formed his own subcontracting firm, Walker Construction, but health issues forced him to retire in 1993. He soon filed a claim with the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, believing his bladder cancer was related to his work at Bethlehem Steel, rolling uranium for the government in the early 1950s. When the government denied his claim, he founded the Bethlehem Steel Action Group, a group of former workers from the Lackawanna steel plant who fought for better administration of the EEOICP.

 

Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to compensate 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. Under EEOICPA, former nuclear workers or their survivors were eligible to file claims with the US Department of Labor (DOL) for individual payments of $150,000, as well as medical benefits. To file a claim, patients or their surviving families needed to provide proper documentation of their illness and employment history.

 

Claims are decided by the DOL and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by using available records about work conditions and employment history. Using these records, NIOSH estimates the radiation doses received by each worker and then determines whether that radiation exposure was likely to have caused the worker’s illness. This “dose reconstruction” process has been time-consuming and controversial, particularly at facilities like Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, New York, where workers did not wear individual radiation monitors, and there was minimal monitoring of ambient radiation. For Bethlehem Steel workers, compensation decisions have been made using a radiation exposure model that relies on data from another facility—the Simonds Saw facility in Lockport, New York.

 

Schumer’s bill would amend the criteria by which employees can be added to a “special exposure cohort.” Being added to a cohort means that employees do not have to go through a “dose reconstruction” process. Instead, if a person has an eligible cancer and worked at a facility when weapons work was performed, their cancer is presumed to have been caused by workplace exposure and the person’s claim is paid. Under the legislation, workers would be added to a special cohort if:

 

• they worked at an eligible facility for an aggregate of at least 250 days, and;

 

• fewer than 50 percent of the total number of the workers at the facility were individually monitored on a regular basis for exposure to internal and external ionizing radiation using reliable methods under a formal health physics program or;

 

• individual internal and external exposure records for radiation are non existent or are not available, or;

 

• to the extent that a portion of individual internal or external records are available for that period from such facility, the exposure to radiation at such facility cannot be reliably determined for greater than 2/3 percent of workers.

 

The bill also directs the Secretary of Labor to apply these criteria to the Bethlehem Steel facility within 90 days of enactment. Because individual records are not available at Bethlehem Steel, workers would qualify for inclusion in a special cohort under the legislation if they worked at the facility for an aggregate of 250 days during 1949-1952. Based on draft site profiles prepared by NIOSH for the Linde Ceramics and Simonds Saw facilities, it appears that many workers from these facilities would qualify under the legislation as well. Because these and other New York facilities are not as far along in the claims process as Bethlehem Steel, it is impossible to determine exactly how the legislation would apply. However, it could assist workers across New York.

 

Western New York has one of the largest concentrations of facilities involved in nuclear weapons production-related activities in the nation, yet continues to be severely underserved by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA).  Former employees of the following businesses could be eligible for health compensation: 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).

 

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