by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Some Atomic Energy Workers Passed Effects of Radiation and Chemical Exposure to their Spouses and Children

© 2013 By Tony Rutherford and

Redistribution with attribution permitted.

Worker safety has been a sacred cow for those subjected to potentially life threatening hazards at the place where they earn their living.  New technologies oftencreate high paying jobs but carry unknown health risks, such as for those who manufactured components for the nuclear industry.

“Big Jim” took a job working around radioactive elements in 1954 at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) in Piketon, Ohio. Workers told his daughter how they kept their lunches warm by laying them on uranium yellow cakes and poked fun of individuals who put plastic around their clothing before painting.They wore radiation exposure badges, but by “doing his job” Jim later developed four cancers.

“My dad talked about the A plant, but he never told us what it was”, Joni Fearing (Big Jim’s daughter) said. “Mom washed his work clothes”.She passed away from a rare form of cancer too.“When my mother was dying, she still did not tell us what it was”.

The Cold War ended the arms race. Nuclear weapons were replaced with atoms for peace at electrical power plants. However, the atomic legacy appears passed to the21st Century.

Now, Fearing pleads, “We have to lift the (currently perceived) A plant Cold War secrecy”. Her father worked in an accepted EEOICPA Special Cohort section of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant from 1954 to 1964, which qualified survivors for government benefits.

“Yet, during that time, workers didn’t have separate uniforms”, she continued.“Mom used to wash Dad’s work clothes, unknowingly exposing herself, and us, to whatever he brought home. She was pregnant with four of us children during those years”.

Due to the Cold War necessities of the United States security, nuclear workers would not speak about the radioactive exposures under which they worked. “They gave their lives and their health in service to their country”, she said.

“The shroud of secrecy was for the nation’s protection. I understand that. But you have to lift that secrecy. So many people could be suffering today and not know why”, Fearing said. “The silence has to be lifted for the sake of the children.”

She has spoken to others who have endured deaths of family members allegedly due to working in and around weapons grade radioactive devices.

For instance, there's  “Melissa”, whose father worked in the Palmer nuclear reactor lab at Princeton University during the Manhattan project. “He used to joke about everything being hot and brought home a contaminated table”, Fearing said. Melissa’s mother died of cancer at age 57. Melissa is sick now and seeks answers too.

An advocate for nuclear workers  stated she knows of (at least) two others  “who may have been affected by the workers' contamination at home.”

And, one former worker recalled 1999 hearings in Piketon with Senators Dewine and Voinovich in attendance, along with Congressman Ted Strickland.A widow testified that her husband worked in the E area of the 705 and had warned, “Never let the kids touch my work shoes". As the audience gasped, she testified that the shoes are still in the attic.

Laying a portion of family history on the table, Fearing asks, “We know my dad was part of the special cohort. We know my mom washed his contaminated work clothes.We know my mom died of cancer. We know there is illness in the children.How did that happen?”

“My hope would be that more families would know what they are dealing with so they could seek proper medical care.It would help if the government would own up to the fact that there are many family members of these nuclear workers who are ill today that were exposed during the Cold War. Otherwise, if survivors hear from doctors that their conditions are genetic, that it runs in the family, they will never know if they are sick because of this legacy from the A plant or if it is a genetic cancer. They need that information to make informed medical care decisions.”

On his death bed, Ms. Fearing’s father did not speak of specific exposures. “He never told us. He died silent”, she said.

Similarly, Fearing revealed, “I don’t know if my mother would have had a different outcome if we could have told her [Michigan] doctors about her exposures”.Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one related to ovarian cancer, her mom did not speak of her husband’s plant work.

“One of my mother’s doctors suggested that all five of us daughters might want to consider having our ovaries removed”, Fearing revealed. “I was horrified. The doctor made that suggestion because she didn’t know about mom’s exposures, and assumed this was genetic. These are the kinds of life-changing medical decisions people face due to continued secrecy.”

However, Ms. Fearing herself is ill. Prior to her returning to Portsmouth, a New Jersey physician detected traces of uranium in her hair.  For now, Ms. Fearing only alludes to medical history specifics due to privacy concerns.


Under current Department of Labor standards, employees who contracted 22 specific cancers and worked at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Kentucky, Portsmouth, Ohio, or Oak Ridge, Tennessee before February 1, 1992.

Ironically, many portions of the veil are no longer classified. Former workers and spouses have kept their mouths tightly shut, recalling a do not tell signature under penalties of fines and criminal prosecution.

When the “secrecy” was intact in 1994, a plant guard and safety representative made a life or death decision. His co-worker had been exposed to radiation at the plant. He lay dying at a nearby hospital. Treatment depended at least on a partial disclosure of the radiation types experienced in the X-326 building.

Chip Lawson listened to his supervisors, then, called the hospital.



Jeff Walburn suffered an injury in 1994 when uranium turned solid clogged 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.


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. Later, both became contaminated by radioactive particles from the plant.

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.”


Don’t dismiss these heart-breaking accounts as flukes. Soldiers in Great Britain were exposed to nuclear testing too. They heard the genetically-influenced runs in family scientific assertions for pathological disease versus radiation exposure.

The British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (ENTVA)in 2007 commissioned a Green Audit to find out about the health of their children and grandchildren.

Chris Busby, visiting professor at the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at the University of Ulster, gathered information on over 600 children and 749 grandchildren. The data would be compared to 718 children of non-atomic vets.

“The results were nothing short of terrifying”, wrote Steve Boggan in “Radiation from the 1960s Nuclear Tests Is Still Hurting My Family”, published April 27, 2009 by The Times/UK.

According to the study, 94.2 congenital defects per one thousand were found in the vital organs of children from the atomic weapons exposed British group, compared to 9.6% for the non-veterans group. The figure was 61.4 compared to 7.4 per thousand among grandchildren.

The Green Audit calls it transgenerational induction of genomic instability,a condition reported at Chernobyl-affected territories. Prof. Busby explained the phenomenon as a “signal passed to offspring which causes random genetic mutation.”


Many families currently residing in and around Portsmouth, Ohio, fear whistle blowing will cost them a friend or a buddy their job. How many children have relocated to  areas outside of the Ohio River community and suffer from rare illness? Could their origination lie in the yellow cakes of the Cold War era? Let us know.