.News Update 6/27/08

DOE Concerned About LANL's Capability to Protect Workers

June 27, 2008

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently wrote the Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in which they raised concerns about how the new management is not protecting workers from occupational hazards as required by federal safety and health requirements. DOE is also concerned about the delays in responding to the non-compliance reports by the new manager, the Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS).

On June 16, the DOE Director of the Office of Enforcement in the Office of Health, Safety and Security wrote LANL Director and President of LANS, Michael Anastasio, about "fundamental, laboratory-wide non-compliances in the LANL worker safety and health program." DOE stated that LANS "failed to complete a review of laboratory work activities to identify locations where exposure assessments are appropriate to characterize and control occupational hazards." This failure may result in increased exposures to airborne contaminants and adverse health effects for employees working in areas where the necessary controls have not been installed because there is inadequate hazard information.

In 2007, DOE conducted their annual environment, safety and health inspection at LANL. They reported continuing failures by LANL in identifying and controlling worker exposures to biological, chemical and physical hazards. DOE is so concerned about the continued failures that they have required LANS to respond within 30 days about how the failures have been addressed.

The letter comes at a time when current and former DOE workers held rallies across the country petitioning for reforms of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Rallies took place in Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Cleveland, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Espanola, New Mexico.

Many of these workers became ill when they were exposed to radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials while working at DOE nuclear weapons facilities. Sick workers are eligible for compensation and medical coverage under the Program. But under the existing guidelines, the sick workers are required to prove the link between their illness and occupation. The workers are petitioning for reforms to streamline the process.

The Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, an organization of former and current LANL workers who became ill from such exposures, hosted the rally in Espanola on June 25, which was attended by about 100 people. Speakers included Michele Jacquez-Ortiz, District Director for Congressman Tom Udall. She read from a prepared statement. Representative Udall said, "These workers are the unsung heroes of American military strength. Their work has made it possible for America to build the most powerful military and science system on earth. They should not be forced to spend their remaining years battling both cancer and their government." Representative Udall introduced legislation so that the Program would automatically covers LANL workers.

Activists are distressed by the continuing problems with protecting workers at LANL. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "Whether during the Cold War or today, workers are being exposed to dangerous materials without the necessary protections. LANL and LANS must comply fully with the federal worker safety and health regulations. To do otherwise, is just plain wrong."

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