WNY Lawmakers Call for Increased Eligibility for Bethlehem Steel Employee Compensation

March 9, 2012 Updated Mar 9, 2012 at 12:19 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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WNY Lawmakers Call for Increased Eligibility for Bethlehem Steel Employee Compensation

March 9, 2012 Updated Mar 9, 2012 at 12:19 PM EDT

(WKBW release) New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Congressman Brian Higgins on Friday called on top officials at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to expand the period upon which former Bethlehem Steel workers and their survivors can apply for compensation for sicknesses incurred due to residual contamination they were unknowingly exposed to while working at the former uranium rolling facility at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna.

According to a news release:

“The workers at the Bethlehem Steel plant and their families deserve an adequate and fair process – and they deserve compensation for the radiation exposure they suffered serving this nation’s agenda in the Cold War,” said Senator Schumer. “NIOSH needs to ensure that it is acting in a way that honors it’s charge as a claimant-friendly process. There is no creditable evidence that any serious clean-up of the highly contaminated cooling beds took place until 1976, and the workers who spent time there before that were undoubtedly exposed to highly dangerous contamination. These workers and their families, many of whom are now sick, need to be treated fairly.”

“Western New York’s Bethlehem Steel Workers that worked in the plant well past 1952 are still left with the question of proper cleanup, and should not have to scale a mountain of red tape on their own to prove the un-provable before receiving the compensation they deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These unsung heroes unknowingly sacrificed their health and wellbeing, and deserve care from conditions they suffer from as a result of Cold War operations.”

“The federal government subjected workers at the former uranium rolling facility at the Bethlehem Steel plant to dangerously high contamination exposure without notice nor proper safety precautions,” said Congressman Higgins. “For 25 years, until the cooling bed was filled in with concrete in 1976, workers who used that facility on a daily basis were subjected to an untold amount of toxic exposure to which there were no safety records taken during and any records that exist are spotty at best.  NIOSH needs to take seriously its assertion that this program is truly claimant-friendly and give these workers and their survivors an avenue to determine if the diseases they have suffered relate to this exposure.”

In October, Schumer, Gillibrand and Higgins asked NIOSH to collect information available during the time period 1952 to 1976 to determine whether a proper assessment of contamination was ascertained by Bethlehem Steel or any safety agencies.  After an inquiry showed that no primary source documents exist during this time period because none were taken to measure any potential exposure, Schumer, Gillibrand and Higgins now argue that the residual contamination study completed in 2002 is incomplete and that the contamination period should be expanded to the year 1976 to allow former workers a pathway to compensation through a Special Exposure Cohort.

Specifically, Schumer, Gillibrand and Higgins mention concerns that the 2002 study does not account for first-hand information provided by worker testimony and does not consider potential contamination on previously untested locations, such as pillar and gear box tops and crane necks. They also argue that the study is not transparent, lacking complete information on methods and processes used.

Uranium was rolled at the Bethlehem Steel facility from 1949-1952. Due to a lack of appropriate protections and, subsequently, an inadequate clean up, workers were unknowingly exposed to high levels of radiation and to residual toxic uranium dust. After years of struggle, in 2010 the Secretary of Health and Human Services granted a Special Exposure Cohort for workers at the site during the time period 1949-1952, but the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, in making its recommendation to the Secretary, stopped short of expanding the residual contamination period.  Now, Schumer, Gillibrand and Higgins are calling on the officials to re-open that process so that a complete and fair consideration of the level of exposure can be made.