by Terrie Barrie
NIOSH Emails Indicate Careful Posture on Contractor and Energy Worker Compensation

It’s hard to accept how naïve I can be.  I was thrilled and excited when the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) was enacted in 2000.  Finally, the workers or their survivors who became ill from being exposed to the cancer cocktail that was present daily at the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities would get the just compensation denied to them for 50 or more years.  Scientists who were not on the DOE contractors’ payroll would be involved in determining whether a cancer was the result of radiation exposure.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) would decide if they had enough bioassay records to reconstruct the radiation dose for a worker.  Sound science and not the financial interest of the DOE contractors will prevail.  Truth will be told and sick workers cared for.  Or so I thought. 

I was even more gullible to think that the scientific debate between NIOSH and the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health’s (Board) would be just that – a scientific debate.  I was proved wrong again.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are a wonderful thing.   Unfortunately, I’ll probably never, ever receive another one from NIOSH after this post, probably not even the year old request that's outstanding. 

After the first Rocky Flats Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) petition was decided, I filed a FOIA with NIOSH for all emails which discussed Rocky Flats.  After about a year I received them. They were informative and opened my eyes a bit.  Some of those emails are the basis for the second Rocky Flats SEC petition which was filed in August 2011.

But some of the emails revealed a lack of respect NIOSH had for the Board’s contractor, Sanford Cohen and Associates’ (SC&A) scientific integrity.  For instance, here’s one dated 11/8/06 from Brant Ulsh to Eugene Potter regarding D & D Internal Dose Statistics,


We need to talk about the approach you used.  The huge GSD would be something that SCA would seize on to drive us in a ridiculous direction.  My gut reaction is that we should not limit our analysis to only the confirmed uptakes or to only those confirmed uptakes that has results above zero.  I haven’t completely thought this through, so I’m suggesting we discuss it.  Once we agree on an analysis approach, we will need to carefully craft the interpretation to pre-emptively limit SCA’s ability to twist and distort the results. (emphasis added)

And this one dated 8/11/06 from Bryce Rich to Mel Chew, subject Kathy D:

“…The thought comes to mind that with Kathy’s focus and knowing she is interviewing redacted a good one to interview, by the way - even though she may pump him for all the negative control issues she can) I just wonder if anyone else on the Rocky team has called and interviewed him??  If not we may be at a disadvantage?  Hesitantly, I would be willing to take a list of questions from the team and make an appointment to sit down with redacted for an hour or two and carefully document the interview - it may not hurt to at least provide an interview with an opposing focus than what Kathy/SC&A represents.  I can see that a description of the circumstances following the fire could be used in both ways.”

I thought the sentiments were a fluke or that the pressure put on NIOSH for the first SEC petition for a large facility was enough for the team to write, what I consider, inappropriately biased emails. 

But this attitude didn’t stop with the first Rocky Flats SEC petition.  A few days ago I received a summary of the emails the Hooker Electrochemical SEC petitioner received from her FOIA request.  She transcribed one email that I found disconcerting.  It is from David Allen to Timothy D. Adler, dated 12/19/09, the subject being “Good Hooker Reading”:

“…The truth is my intent is to employ the ‘throw them a bone’ strategy.  Basically, give SC&A an obvious point to pick on so that they will.  Often they stop once they find one.  At that point, I walk into a WG meeting and agree 100% with all of their hits and let the WG members try to figure out how they are going to make it an SEC when there is total agreement.”

Do some NIOSH employees still harbor the same feelings concerning SC&A and the Board? Do these emails sound as if NIOSH is confident with their methodology and welcomes an honest debate on their science?  Did NIOSH maneuver SC&A and therefore the Board into denying SEC status to Hooker Electrochemical?  Is this ethical?  Or am I simply being naïve? Is this negative attitude towards people with differing opinions a common practice within the scientific community?

The best way to get to the bottom of this is for Congress to hold hearings on the entire program and ask hard questions.  I want to hear NIOSH explain these emails.    //