Cancer Rife in Group Seeking Cash Settlements

By Kathy Kellogg

West Valley Demonstration Project employees and former employees have been comparing notes as they help each other obtain cash settlements under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990. What they have learned is unsettling.

Most of the 15 members of the organization, dubbed the West Valley Nuclear Compensation Group, who met Friday in Concord Town Hall for only the second time, have either been treated for cancer, have recently been diagnosed with it or have lost a spouse to the disease.

At the meeting, Judy Einach and Joanne Hameister, of the West Valley Coalition, explained that many have been waiting years for their claims to be processed but that more people should file claims. They said they have a long list of names of co-workers who have cancer and are directing the blame toward the Department of Energy and elected officials for not helping them obtain $150,000 in settlements and medical costs.

As of Tuesday, just 17 employees or their spouses had been paid a total of $2,454,314 — out of an eligible group of 142 claimants, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Members of the support group learned about the program through word of mouth, and one received an official letter notifying him of the chance to apply.

They want to find ill co-workers and those who may have moved away after being laid off from the project.

They said they will begin a campaign to receive help from elected officials. A staffer for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has asked for specifics, names of claimants, reasons for denial and proof of exposure.

Lori Nason, whose job in a warehouse was eliminated recently, doesn’t have cancer but learned her dosimeter badge once registered exposure to radiation while she sat unaware in her office — just 50 feet from a carload of highly radioactive casks ready for shipment and disposal. She said she never saw a written report of the incident.

Nason joined the group to support founders Sue Klein, a widow of a warehouse worker who died in January of lung cancer at age 54, and Cheley Ghani, whose husband also worked in the warehouse and died at 48, just a week later. The three women said they know at least half of the roughly 16 warehouse workers who now have cancer or died from it.

Some members pointed to the region’s high incidence of thyroid disease, which they believe stems from the 1993-1997 period of documented releases of ionizing radiation during a process to solidify high-level liquid wastes.

Several claimants say the claim requirements can be tough: proof of 250 days of employment in the Department of Energy and over a 50 percent reasonable belief that their cancer can be traced to a radiation accident.

“I think I’m the only case with a doctor’s excuse,” said Robert Timmel, an operator who believes his rare, slowly progressing leukemia began in 2002, when he encountered airborne radiation while preparing to drain a large pool holding spent fuel rods.

The group’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 in Concord Town Hall, Springville.

Originally published by CATTARAUGUS CORRESPONDENT.

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