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Schumer: Measure To Assist Western Ny Nuclear Workers Clears Major Hurdle

Schumer Provision would help nuclear workers suffering from cancer finally receive federal compensation by setting up resource center that helps them wade through layers of red tape

US Senators Charles E. Schumer today announced that the Senate and House Conference on the Defense Authorization Act of 2005 has agreed to an amendment that will provide Western New Yorkers with the support that they need and deserve to effectively navigate the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.

A measure introduced by Senator Schumer will establish a new resource center in Western New York that would help sick nuclear workers with their compensation applications. Schumer who has lambasted the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) for only paying out ten percent of claims to New York nuclear workers, said that the resource center was vital to assist local nuclear workers with the application process.

"Today we have finally taken a step forward," Schumer said. "It simply 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. We have New Yorkers literally dying off as they wait for these payments that were promised to them. Now they will hopefully get some help filing their claims so they can get the compensation they deserve."

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 number of claims submitted to the Department of Labor under subtitle B of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 from the western New York region, including western Pennsylvania, exceeds the number of such claims filed at resource centers in Hanford, Washington; Portsmouth, Ohio; Los Alamos, New Mexico; the Nevada Test Site, Nevada; the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, Colorado; the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, Idaho; and the Amchitka Test Site, 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. Eleven 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 productionrelated activities in the nation, Western New York, and abutting areas of Pennsylvania, continue to be severely underserved by the EEOICPA," Schumer wrote in a letter in February 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 EEOICPA 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).

Schumer also supported a provision based on Senator Clintons Residual Radioactive Contamination Compensation Act (RRCCA), which she introduced on February 26, 2004. The Clinton provision fixes a major flaw in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) as passed in 2000 by expanding eligibility to workers employed at facilities where NIOSH has found potential for significant radioactive contamination. Under EEOICPA, workers are eligible for a payment of $150,000 and medical coverage for expenses associated with the treatment of diseases contracted due to exposure to radiation at atomic weapons plants. However, under EEOICPA, workers who became sick from working in contaminated atomic weapons plants after weapons production ceased are not currently eligible for benefits. NIOSH found that half of New Yorks 31 plants had this potential, including the Linde Plant in Tonowanda, and the Simonds Saw plant in Lockport. Clintons provision would extend eligibility for benefits under EEOICPA to workers who were employed at facilities where NIOSH has found potential for significant radioactive contamination.

Today's measure the BunningBingaman amendment to the 2005 Defense Authorization Conference Report was agreed to by members of the Senate and House Conference . The measure now heads to both the House and Senate for final approval of the bill before heading to the President's desk.