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Portsmouth, Ohio, Nuclear Workers Allege Criminal Cover Ups
From “Killing Our Own,” by Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon (1982), a peak hole at the company culture in Paducah followed by Piketon (Ohio a.k.a. Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant)
Joe Harding, a maintenance worker at the Kentucky plant regularly breathed radioactive gases "so thick you could see the haze in the air when you looked at the ceiling light and you could taste it coated on your teeth and in your throat and lungs. After a couple hours of work the uranium dust on the floor was so thick you could see your tracks when walking around." Leaks were rampant, Harding added, and protective clothing was minimal. "There was no particular lunch room or lunch hour. You just sat down somewhere, blew away the uranium dust and had your lunch.”
By February 1980, the fifty nine year old Harding had lost 95% of his stomach, suffered from skin sores that would not heal, fingernail-like growths protruded from his joints, and he had a tumor wrapped around his spine in his abdominal cavity.
Supervisors had told Harding, “you will not get any more radiation in this work than you get from wearing a luminous dial wrist watch.” After he died weighing only eighty-five pounds, Clara Harding would be told that Joe “had rarely been monitored for radiation because of the low potential for exposure.”
However, the lack of safety from nuclear materials and hazardous chemicals was not confined to Paducah.
PIKETON AND PREGNANCY
Later, both became contaminated by radioactive particles from the plant. Mike and Kathy Schuller had been interviewed by British TV in 1980. They were told their jobs were “safe from radioactivity.” by then operator Goodyear Atomic.
When Mrs. Schuller protested on her working conditions, her employer said, you “either you do it, or you get sent home.” She told the TV crew, “I kind of worry about what is going to happen to my unborn child.” At the time of the interview she added, “I will feel better after it gets here, and that it’s got everything --- all ten fingers and ten toes.”
On December 18, 1980, the Schullers’ son was born with only one hand.
Diana Salisbury testified in the 1990’s concerning the following statement from a GAO report, “According to our own reports and the consultant’s study, Portsmouth has not demonstrated to Ohio EPA that all sources of hazardous air emissions are included in the hazardous air emissions permits nor have permits been issued covering all known releases. LEAKS at Piketon Plant
At an October 30, 1999 Public meeting with Assistant Secretary of Energy Dr. David Michaels at the Comfort Inn, Piketon, Ohio, Susan Thompson, the widow of Owen Thompson testified about accidents at the plant. She referred to a paper in the late Owen Thompson’s handwriting concerning the “oxide conversion E Area” of the Piketon plant. (Thompson had worked in the high risk section and helped bury the Huntington Pilot Plant.)
Owen Thompson’s notation stated: “Shortly after DOE took over, another accident with an operator turning on the fire burning tower when the ash pot was not hooked up … and an explosion of radioactive smoke, fire and dust melted a Plexiglass box… We at times had to enter that plexiglass box to clean inside.”
Terry Adams, an engineer had come to Piketon in 1975 after working in Oak Ridge. He would be tapped as a member of the Safety Analysis Department. “This was to investigate all areas of the plant, one by one,” he testified.
POLLUTING THE RIVER
“We learned there was 187,000 barrels of lithium hydroxide stored in fiber drums stacked three high on the plant site that came from somewhere else. The buildings were all leaking, the roofs had leaks. These barrels were falling apart and the stuff was “leaking out into the drainage system ….down into the Scioto River. Later, that was all repackaged.”
EXPLOSION IN 1975 BLEW OUT PORTION OF BUILDING WALL
Adams testified that the committee wrote a report “that there was danger of an explosion inside the purge area. We got pooh-poohed for it, not by the DOE , because the DOE jumped right on it. By the time DOE got the message, the site was… we forecast the China Syndrome you heard about. We had a purge site explosion. It blew several hundred feet out the side of one of the buildings.”
Ironically, in the 342 building which contained a lot of smoke, there were three DOE inspectors on the site. Goodyear gave them “canisters” so they could “go in and look at it while they were here on the spot.”
However , one canister did not have “anything in it” and one of the masks “did not have anything in it.” Suffice to conclude, “the man went there and got overcome, and they life –flighted him back to Oak Ridge. The other two had the wrong canisters. They life-flighted all of them back to Oak Ridge. We went on with things like this [yet we went on working[ with things like this in every area.”
ALLEGATIONS OF FALSEHOODS
Degree of exposure varied according to job assignment. For instance, guards allegedly received little exposure. Other workers, who did cleaning, were contaminated by radioactive substances stuck in the pipes.
Jeff Walburn suffered an injury in 1994 when uranium turned solid clogging piping. Clinging to the walls of the pipe, this area became a “slow cooker” which emitted high radiation energy neutrons. Management used a secret mixture (without informing guards or employees) that contained “highly corrosive and toxic chemicals” for converting the clogged solid uranium to a gas.
Guard Walburn had this secret mixture touch his hands and face, which turned red . He had difficulty breathing. The plant dispensary treated him with ice and alcohol then ordered him back to work.
In a May 19, 2011 interview with WBNS-TV, Columbus, Ohio, Walburn stated: “There were 26 chemicals shooting into a cylinder above our position. As we were talking, the atmosphere changed. It was like we were being stung all over. I was spitting out granulated pieces of lung. My hair came out. I was burnt clear through.”
Walburn told HNN that the chemicals created hydrogen fluoride. “When ingested it burnt you completely,” he said. Others included chlorine trifluoride, hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid and other “secret chemicals.”
“Paul Walton and I had uptake. There were argon grammagraphs that went off that day [in 1994] as well, denoting the presence of Gamma Radiation,” Walburn said.
After he got off work, his wife took him to Southern Ohio Medical Center. A doctor there called the “poison control center” and was told “admit the man at once as he was in great danger.”
Walburn is but one example of management allegedly covering up the dangers to workers.
In fact, the Piketon issues have been labeled as “criminal” by attorney Frank Gerlach, who represents Walburn and others. Among the allegations, the intentional mishandling of dosimeter readings which supposedly told how much radiation an employee had been exposed. But, it was in the company’s best economic interest for them not to exceed the yearly maximums, otherwise, the employee would have to sit out a year at full pay.
“Lockheed made bogus logs, hid information from investigators, changed [my] medical records and dosimetry (radiation exposure),” Walburn said.
There were more stakeholders that would profit than one or more corporations, DOE and governmental agencies have dirty hands, too.
“They manipulated the records to say we were getting no internal or external exposures But, people were getting cancers,” Walburn said.
“Letters state stop the highly enriched uranium program,” Walburn said. They were ignored. “American workers were injured so IPO stock could be [offered] and so Soviet warheads could be secured and downblended under the HEU program,” Walburn explained.
Read the allegations made by Mr. Gerlach to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., US Department of Justice. CRIMINAL ALLEGATIONS TO DOJ
(Editor’s Note: The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has at this time declined involvement citing statute of limitations issues; however, Walburn and others maintain that these radioactivity cover-ups continue.)
NEXT: Maintaining “Cover Ups” on Degrees of Radiation Exposure