Study Finds Higher Risk of Lung Cancer for Rocky Flats Plutonium Workers

Budget Shortfalls Further Delay Payment for Sick Uranium Workers

* A study recently released by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the Colorado Department of Health indicates that Rocky Flats employees who have inhaled radioactive particles have a higher risk of contracting lung cancer. The study found that workers who inhaled plutonium particles are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than those who were not employed at Rocky Flats.

The study is the first to offer concrete data establishing a link between plutonium inhalation and lung cancer. Also, the study found that Rocky Flats workers are 2.5 times more likely to develop brain cancer than the general population.

The case study included 16,303 people who worked at Rocky Flats for at least six months between 1952 and 1989. The administrators of the study say that more research is necessary before deciding if standards for handling plutonium should be changed. The study did not definitively link workers' employment at Rocky Flats with their illnesses, and indicated that other factors, including chemical exposure and lifestyle, could be attributed to the increased risk.

Several former Rocky Flats employees were not surprised with the findings, but were disappointed to find that the study was not more decisive about the cause of their illnesses. Wally Gulden, who worked with plutonium at Rocky Flats for 26 years and now has non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, said, "...I know I ingested plutonium, and I want to know if [my illness] is related to my work. I hoped for more answers, but there aren't any."

* Thousands of former uranium workers who have filed claims for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (or RECA) may face delays in compensation due to a federal deficit in the program of $101 million over four years. This is the largest shortfall since 2000, when the Justice Department was forced to issue IOUs, in lieu of payment, to dying former workers and downwinders.

RECA was established in 1990 to make lump sum payments of $100,000 to affected uranium miners and $50,000 to those living downwind of the Nevada Test Site. In 2000, the program was expanded to include more diseases and classes of workers. This increased the number of claims filed three-fold and forced Congress to fund an additional $655 million through 2011 to cover the thousands of additional claims.

However, RECA is again facing budget restraints. New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici worked for the additional funding in 2000. Chris Gallegos, spokesperson for Domenici, said, "[Senator Domenici] is disappointed that once again we're facing a situation where the people who the program was supposed to help may have trouble having their claims settled."

Advocates for the program are also disappointed. Scot Houska, who represents many RECA claimants, said of previous budget setbacks, "There were people passing away and it was a hardship on a lot of these guys and they derived a lot of peace of mind knowing that their spouses are going to be cared for. Some of them were robbed of that."

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