New Mexico Congressmen Hear Concerns Regarding DOE Worker Compensation Program

CCNS Releases Review of Worker Health Studies at LANL

* On Saturday, May 11th, Senator Jeff Bingaman and Representative Tom Udall held a public hearing in Española to learn about the problems sick current and former Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) employees are having with the new federal program created to compensate them for their illnesses. In October 2000 Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act, which would provide a $150,000 lump sum payment to workers for exposures to radiation, beryllium and silica while working at Department of Energy (or DOE) sites around the country, and related medical expenses.

Over 250 people, mostly current and former LANL employees, packed the hearing. Many workers spoke about missing or destroyed personnel, medical, safety and radiation monitoring records at LANL. Jonathan Garcia, a heavy equipment operator at LANL's radioactive dump from 1976 to 1990, contracted leukemia. LANL fired Garcia because of his absences while receiving treatment. LANL officials later said that they could not find some of Garcia's employment records, therefore he could not be compensated.

There have been 684 total claims filed in New Mexico, 10 of which have received a final decision and only four which have been compensated. Almost half of the complaints are for cancer; there are 56 for beryllium exposure, 138 for other lung conditions, and 37 for kidney system disorders.

Senator Bingaman said he would work to streamline the claims process and expand the compensation program. Representative Udall said that the ill workers should not be penalized for destroyed or missing records. He said, "We need to bring justice and fairness to these Cold War heroes here today."

CCNS Releases Review of Worker Health Studies at LANL

CCNS released a critical review of the occupational health studies at LANL this week. The review was prepared by Drs. Steve Wing and David Richardson, both from the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina and was supported by a grant from the Citizens' Monitoring and Technical Assessment Fund. The review describes the weaknesses and strengths of worker health studies and their capacity to address worker and public health concerns. It summarizes the three types of health studies conducted at LANL, namely, exposure, medical follow-up of selected exposed workers, and epidemiological studies.

The review also considers those who are frequently excluded from occupational health studies. Anglo men employed by the University of California (or UC) are most frequently studied, while adequate studies of minority workers are rarely done. Health studies have not been done for employees of contractors and subcontractors other than the Zia Company, Pan American World Services and Johnson Controls, Inc. Over the years, these companies have performed construction, maintenance and support services at LANL. In one study, 97 percent of the personnel records for UC workers were available, whereas only 20 percent of records were available for the Zia Company workers.

Drs. Wing and Richardson recommend that workers and the public be involved in the decisionmaking processes for setting exposure standards and related health research.

Back to News Index