FLASHBACK: Huntington’s Houdaille Plant Contained Radioactive Materials; Hundreds Allegedly Died of Lung Cancer

Updated 4 years ago Reprinted and Apapted from Original , (c) 2010 by Tony Rutherford & HNN

A Wall Street Journal investigation recently disclosed our nation's "secret" nuclear weapons legacy, specifically hundreds of locations where workers toiled with radioactive elements in support of the nation's foreign policy that emphasized nuclear deterance in a time underscored by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Men and women who served during those non-declared war years still fight for recognition. Civilians who labored in plants that supported the nation's nuclear effort also struggle often silently though suffering terminal disease.

Without their knowledge, they handled highly radioactive chemicals that were part of the Department of Defense/Department of Energy atomic weapons programs.
Many, if not all, worked at locations for which a security clearance was required. The employees could not talk to others about work performed. Yet, they would go home and their work clothes would be washed with other family garments.
Former workers of the Huntington Pilot Plant (a.k.a. Reduction Pilot Plant) qualify for occupational compensation due to cancers caused by exposure to radioactive materials that were components of the nuclear weapon production process. The plant operated from 1951-1962 doing contract atomic work for the Department of Energy and its predecessors.

The HPP remained on site at Huntington Alloys in "cold stand by" until 1978-1979. At that time, a decision was made to dismantle the plant and cart its most contaminated remains to a classified land fill in Piketon, Ohio, on the grounds of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.  Even as the PGDP was in a decommissioning phase, some local truck drivers refused to go past the gate. They insisted that another worker take the vehicle inside and return it to the gate.
Employees of a then bumper maker in Huntington were denied compensation for occupational exposure to radiation,  according to a March 2003 DOE letter. T.A. Rollow, P.E., Directors Office of Worker Advocacy, wrote that the plant did not meet all three elements necessary for compensation for energy workers. The first two are the contractual relationship with Atomic Energy Commission (or similar) and production of material that went into “an atomic weapon.”
Rollow acknowledged the Houdaille plant met the third requirement: “The material must have been radioactive.” DOWNLOAD ATTACHMENT PDF BELOW
Many retirees and their survivors have asserted that the radiation came from recycled nickel carbonyl obtained from the Huntington Pilot/Reduction Pilot Plant, which was used in auto bumpers.
Houdaille closed in late 1980. One year before that the HPP plant was disassembled in Huntington and taken by rail and trucks for burial in a classified radioactive landfill location on the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant grounds in Piketon, Ohio.
Norma Perdue, widow of Earl Perdue,  lived in Florida in 2010. Mrs. Perdue told HNN by telephone that her husband died a “horrible, horrible death” from radiation poisoning. She said that her husband’s tumor initially took radiation for an eight point tumor, which “went down three points and within a month was back up to nine points.” His physicians claimed there was nothing that could be done as the occupational radiation exposure took 30 to 40 years to cause his death.
“I have contacted everybody that I could to go back and take a look at this legislation. Both Sen. Jay Rockefeller and [Florida] Sen. William Nelson have promised me they would get something done about this,” Mrs. Perdue told HNN in 2010. “Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has already intervened on my behalf to find out what she could.”
What Mrs. Perdue learned is that if you worked at the “Portsmouth facility you were covered; if you worked at an offsite facility you weren’t covered. What’s the difference,” she told them, “it’s all the same nuclear waste.” In fact, “Portsmouth has not denied it, they said in their bureaucratic way of talking that your husband would have had to work on [this] site.”
After having talked to some of the former workers, she asserts that waste from Piketon “came probably by barge” to INCO for “cleaning” then “It ended up down at Houdaille. I do know they had it stored in a room in back of Houdaille,” Mrs. Perdue said, adding “my husband was[then] on the safety committee there.
“The more I found out the angrier I got because Earl died such a horrible, horrible death.”
She’s waiting for assistance from the Senators and Congresswoman on widening the legislation to include workers such as her husband.
Former workers and others have alleged and to some extinct memorialized in letters and affidavits the use of radioactive materials at the Houdaille plant.
In fact, Houdaille’s former manager of Employment Safety, Hope F. Wilmer, wrote a letter to a workmen’s compensation official in April 2001 of reading an article on the HPP in the Herald Dispatch. “I think that we might have found a source of a tremendous problem we experienced at Houdaille in Huntington, that is, the excessive number of employees who died of lung cancer.” DOWNLOAD WILMER'S LETTER AS A PDF ATTACHMENT BELOW
Wilmer’s letter stated that in the 70s , “I sat in on a high level meeting between Houdaille and International Nickel Co. The meeting was called in order to try to determine what was causing so many of our people to die of lung cancer. It was obvious at the time Houdaille thought that the nickel plating process had something to do with our problem. As far as I know, the meeting did not result in any action.”
At the time, Houdaille contained the largest electrolyzing facility within 300 miles, recalled a student, who toured the plant in grade school. During the 60s, some workers wore dosimeters containing film that measured radioactive exposures like Portsmouth workers.
Claybourn Carroll in a March 2003 letter told about his job from 1946-1981 in the shipping and storeroom maintenance areas at the Huntington plant.
“I received the materials for the factory and issued them out to be used by the plant. We received the recycled nickel , which was in units of 3 ½ feet by 8 ½ inches in width and approximately ¾ inch in thickness. The material had melt bubbles on the top side. I issued the material out to the welders to be welded into long anodes for plating. This material had to be kept in smaller amounts in the storeroom cage under lock and key to keep it from being stolen. The bulk of the nickel was stored in the basement area of another building as there was not enough room to store the entire shipment and inventory in the storeroom… I am in hopes that this statement will assist you in linking Houdaille Industries with the International Nickel Company here in Huntington as it is difficult to now find men who can remember such facts as 373 of our fellow workers are deceased.” .
James A. Mitchell, president of the Houdaille Retirees Association, maintains that the connection has been made through affidavits and testimony which link the recycled nickel from atomic weapons to INCO and/or the HPP/RPP.
Mitchell has asked for compensation for “exposure, illness and death of employees at Houdaille for atomic radiation poisoning from hot nickel which was produced at the U.S. Department of Energy RPP {Reduction Pilot Plant} located at the International Nickel Plant in Huntington, WV.”
Aside from atomic bomb components, Mitchell stated that the RPP plant received “rods, tubes, values, pans, and tanks which were radioactive and tarnished like silverware. The men at the RPP hand polished , sanded or ground off the tarnish to put in barrels and ship away.” He asserted that the “cleanest” parts were “sheared into small pieces, packed and sealed in cardboard boxes” before “melting down in the high powered electric furnace.”
However, the re-cycled nickel from the atomic energy process “was still radioactive” and unfit for sale. But, Mitchell recalled “they found a sale for the hot nickel but did not tell Houdaille’s people it was hot.”
Mitchell stated that prior to receipt at Houdaille the radioactive nickel carbonyl “was poured out on a flat floor and left to cool. After it cooled, they cut it in pieces about ¾ of an inch thick with black bubbles and dark scale on one side.” The sheets were 3 ½ feet by seven inches wide.
Admitting “at the time we did not know where they came from,” Mitchell asserted the Houdaille workers “welded two of these slabs together end to end . They made a perfect anode to hang down in our planting tanks to plate bumpers which we did for years.”
Of course, no one knew the amount of radioactivity and/or contamination in the recycled materials. Only after the declassification of materials concerning the Reduction Pilot Plant/Huntington Pilot Plant (as well as Portsmouth Diffusion Plant) did revelations occur that the Portsmouth plant sent Huntington still materials that had been used in barrier units at Portsmouth and possibly the Paducah plants. These were contaminated with plutonium, uranium, chromium and other radioactive elements. 

Click for Mitchell's statements to HNN reference the Local 40 United Steelworkers meeting: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/634 and DOWNLOAD A PDF OF THE MEETING MINUTES (Mr. Mitchell is not directly named in the PDF, the statement says "name redacted." He gave us permission to identify himself.)
The documents and letters assembled by these retirees raise troubling questions, particularly why they are denied compensation for working in similarly radioactive materials of their peers, particularly since the originating venues have qualified for compensation.
Only at large councilman Steve Williams would comment about apparent remediation at the site. Although the plant closed in 1980, Williams had been Huntington’s city manager from 1984-1985, the director of economic development (1984) and chief housing and director of public services for Huntington from 1979-1981. He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1988-1994.
"[Considering] all the different hands that the property has passed , I'd be surprised if remediation or testing had not occurred. I feel confident about the status of the property now," Williams told HNN prior to the Monday, October 25 council meeting. Marc Sprouse, president Huntington Area Development Council . told HNN that HADCO “has not been involved in any activity at the Houdaille facility.”
Melinda Midkiff, HMDA Executive Assistant, told HNN that “HMDA has never had any involvement with the site in question.”
An examination of public documents on the web indicated that the site was once considered for “superfund” status, but was not selected as a “priority” site . In addition, the location has been moved to “archived” status on the EPA web page.
DESIGNATED 1997 SUPERFUND SITES, WV, http://www.cqs.com/super_wv.htm

© 2010 by HNN and Tony Rutherford

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