The Department of Energy now admits that certain
worker cancers are a result of working in nuclear weapons facilities
Judge overturns Santa Fe ordinance limiting
the discharge of radiological materials into the City's sewer
*Environmental activists and Department of Energy (or DOE) workers
have spoken out about the detrimental health effects from working
in nuclear weapons plants for many years. Finally, after decades
of denial, the DOE admitted in a leaked report, that workers making
nuclear weapons have been exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals
that have produced cancer and early death.
The federal government
acknowledges that the exposures led to higher-than-normal rate
of a wide range of cancers among workers at 14 nuclear weapons
plants around the country. The report stated that at these plants
there were 22 categories of diseases that were more frequent than
expected. The cancers were found among nearly 600,000 people who
worked in nuclear weapons production plants. The health effects
range from leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma to cancer of the prostate,
kidney, salivary glands and lung.
In July the government admitted
that one of the substances used in weapons production, beryllium,
a toxic metal, had caused some workers to come down with an incurable
lung ailment called berylliosis (pronounced "ber ril e oses")
from breathing beryllium dust. This finding led President Clinton
to order a broad study to look at the effects of radiation and
chemical hazards from uranium, plutonium and other substances.
Clinton also asked the study group to develop a policy for compensation,
but that work is not yet complete. Congress will have to resolve
the issue of compensation for those who are sick or who have died
as a result of their exposures. Congress will then have to decide
whether to make payments to survivors of deceased workers.
a recent interview, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "This
is the first time that the government is acknowledging that people
got cancer from radiation exposure in the plants."
Since the government
began processing radioactive material to produce bombs over 57
years ago for the Manhattan Project, the government has continued
to minimize the hazards of radiation and chemicals. The government
tried to marginalize, discredit and criticize epidemiological
research that raised questions. Instead of investigating the facts,
the government spent tens of millions of dollars in defending
itself against lawsuits brought by sick workers. Today, the truth
is seeping out.
One expert on nuclear weapons manufacturing and
a former DOE official, Robert Alvarez said, "A review of the [exposure]
studies by a body impaneled by the president is official recognition.
That's what makes this a big deal." Alvarez commented that the
number of victims would depend on how many diseases were admittedly
linked to radiation. This could then raise the number of workers
effected to the thousands. Some epidemiologists believe radiation
damages the human immune system and thus leaves people vulnerable
to a wide variety of diseases beyond those cancers usually associated
The attorney for the Paper, Allied-Industrial
Chemical and Energy Workers Union, Daniel J. Guttman, who represents
employees at 11 weapons factories, said of the draft conclusions,
"That's stunning. The prior story line was, 'What's the big deal,
the risks were marginal.'"
January 27, 2000, an Albuquerque federal district judge ruled
that the 1997 Santa Fe City Ordinance regulating the discharge
of radioactive materials into its sewer system usurped the authority
of the New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED). In the case
of the Interstate Nuclear Services ("INS," or the "nuclear laundry")
versus the City of Santa Fe, Judge Bruce D. Black held that a
specific grant of power to the NMED trumped the City's general
authority under the state's Sewage Facilities Act. Judge Black
said that the ordinance made "it close to impossible" for the
nuclear laundry to operate on Siler Road in Santa Fe. For more
than 30 years, the nuclear laundry washed contaminated clothing
for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other nuclear industries
in the region.
The City Council passed the ordinance in order
to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents. Community
members urged the ordinance's passage due to their concerns about
the treated wastewater being used to water city parks, golf courses,
and polo grounds. "In order to save water, we have to use our
effluent," said City Councilor Cris Moore. "I think a community
should have the right to set higher standards than the state,
especially when we want to assure people our effluent is safe."
It is unclear whether the laundry will reopen.
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