Tangled Allegations by Atomic Workers in Portsmouth Allege Civil Liability, Criminal Conduct

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Tangled Allegations by Atomic Workers in Portsmouth Allege Civil Liability, Criminal Conduct
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) - Atomic workers at the Huntington Pilot Plant, Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant  at  Piketon, Ohio (PGDP), Paducah, Ky. Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, and other designed former atomic weapons sites can now apply for government compensation.The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP) began July 31, 2001, after a bill made it through Congress.

Documents from applicants for compensation rely heavily on a radiation doses.  However, nearly all of the records disappeared so workers alleging radiation related cancer rely on dose reconstruction --- an extensive process estimating the levels and types of exposure workers received on the job which may have been for decades.

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Jeff Walburn’s federal complaint that alleges intentional alteration of worker records and asks for criminal investigations.

HNN received a transcript of a March 22, 2000 hearing before the U.S. Senate on DOE’s management of health and safety at Oak Ridge and Piketon. Those testifying , as well as the senators, were sympathetic. The testimony grants a sliver of insight into the activities at those plants and the pre-compensation culture.

Berryllium Was one of the contaminants at certain atomic weapons plants
Berryllium Was one of the contaminants at certain atomic weapons plants

“There is something wrong at the Portsmouth plant, something which may well point to the cause throughout the industry of why workers are sick and dead,” Jeff Walburn told the U.S. Senate committee.

After suffering an injury, the Piketon plant said he had been exposed to low levels of fluorine. He (and the senators ) disagreed testifying, “as my wife [who is a nurse] held me in her arms she witnessed my lung linings bubble out of my nose and mouth. My fair fell out. I had intestinal insult….”

At the March 2000 hearing , Ann Ornick, an employee of the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, testified, “some of my duties would be to go in some of the places that had been shut down since the early 1940s and 1950s. I would go in and these things would be busted open and I would try to clean that up and get a reading… I never knew what it was.”

Workers told the Senate committee about employees and their doctor’s receiving redacted medical records.

“They have cut out the main item,” Ornick testified concerning her husband. “He was exposed to and they blacked them out. We don’t even know what it is." 

Country Road runs past Piketon facility now in the early stages of decommissioning
Country Road runs past Piketon facility now in the early stages of decommissioning

Senate Committee chairman Thompson said, “I bet we can.”

Ornick told of “carrying and handling all samples” that had come in [to Oak Ridge] from the K-25, Rocky Flats, Hanford and all other site. “They were filthy,” she said. They did not have lids and were broken open.” She added, “radiation readings would be in the millions and the DOE limit on beta would be 5,000 and alpha 1,000….”

After Congress passed the compensation, NIOSH (National Institute of Safety and Health) handled applications and undertook the dose reconstructions.

However, Linda Smith, an employee of the Dosimetry Lab for 14 years testified in an April 22, 1997 deposition that “hundreds and thousands” of radiation readings were changed.

Q: The circumstances under which dosage readings could be changed without a TLD correction form in how many instances that you recall, how did that come abot?

Ms. SMITH: They could change anything they wanted to

Q: All you need basically is access to the system

Ms. Smith: Yes sir.

Q: In your opinion from your observations would you consider dosage records in past years…. To be secure and accurate.

Ms. Smith: No.

 

Although presently on appeal, you can download the Walburn federal complaint asking for class action status in a suit against Lockheed-Martin Utility Services.  The reason for the appeal is statute of limitations questions about knowledge of exposure. The plaintiffs allege a cover up and intentional  withholding or alteration of documents; the defendants admit withholding the records but claim it’s now too late for a law suit.  


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