[ RadSafe ] Oak Ridge Associated Universities accused of bias in nuclear weapons workers' compensation
james at bovik.org
Sun Apr 9 08:03:35 CDT 2006
Rep. Probes Nuclear Compensation Program
by NANCY ZUCKERBROD, Associated Press Writer
Sat Apr 8, 12:37 PM ET
For years, radiation experts at the nation's nuclear weapons sites
failed to adequately protect workers from on-the-job hazards. Now, some
of those experts are helping run a compensation program for the workers.
The situation has attracted the attention of Congress, with one lawmaker
pressing for an investigation into whether the workers are being treated
Rep. John Hostettler recently wrote to the investigative arm of Congress
to ask whether the contractor running the compensation program has
policies that are "sufficient to ensure that conflicts or biases do not
taint the credibility and quality of the science produced to date."
Hostettler, R-Ind., is chairman of a House subcommittee that deals with
people bringing claims against the government.
Critics contend that the contractor, Oak Ridge Associated Universities,
has put into key jobs people who have managed radiation monitoring
programs at the weapons sites. In some cases, those people were
witnesses for the government when it fought compensation claims.
Jim Melius, who is on a presidential advisory board that oversees the
program, said, "It's so critical for this program to be credible and for
the claimants to have an understanding and confidence that the people
who were monitoring them — and maybe in some cases failing to monitor
them properly — will not be the people passing judgment on their
exposures and on their compensation."
Nearly 73,000 workers or their survivors have filed claims under the
program, according to the Labor Department.
Government officials say they are preparing a policy that will spell out
how the contractor should handle conflicts of interest.
"It's a very difficult, complex dilemma that we face," said Larry
Elliott, who heads the office of compensation in the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health. The agency oversees the contract.
Elliott said the guidelines would try to balance the need to rely on the
radiation experts at the nuclear facilities for their knowledge of the
sites with concerns about potential biases.
He said it was difficult to find experts on the effects of radiation who
were not tied to the government's nuclear weapons program.
"There is a limited pool of experts here," he said.
Kate Kimpan, who directs the contractor's program, said her group will
adhere to the guidelines and "ensure that our conclusions are beyond
Five years ago, Congress decided to compensate the Cold War-era workers
— tens of thousands of whom worked at sites nationwide — after the
government admitted putting them at risk of cancer caused by radiation
exposure. Sick workers get $150,000 plus medical benefits.
The Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based contractor is writing reports that detail
hazards at weapons facilities. The reports are blueprints the contractor
is using to estimate how much radiation workers were exposed to.
Critics say some of the authors appear biased.
Kelly Schmidt, a worker and union leader at the Hanford site in
Washington state, has complained that authors of the Hanford report
managed important aspects of the radiation program there.
Schmidt noted that a version of the report stated it was unlikely
workers received large intakes of radiation that went unnoticed because
there was "rigorous workplace monitoring" at Hanford.
"It gives the impression that they're saying, 'Gosh, we did a great
job,'" Schmidt said.
An auditor working for the advisory board raised concerns, too, saying
the Hanford report relied too heavily on the ability of shields placed
around nuclear reactors to protect workers from radiation.
The auditor also found that the Hanford report did not account for all
the possible radiation that workers who handled recycled uranium might
have been exposed to.
An audit of Oak Ridge Associated Universities' report describing the
Y-12 weapons plant in Tennessee found that exposure to radiation from
thorium and plutonium was not adequately accounted for.
An audit of the report the contractor did involving the Rocky Flats
facility in Colorado found that the authors did not cast a critical
enough eye on "possible data integrity issues." That is a reference, in
part, to documents indicating workers had no radiation exposure when
evidence would suggest otherwise.
Some workers there are upset that a manager of the radiation monitoring
program, Roger Falk, was an author.
"By admitting that he didn't keep accurate records, he would be
admitting that he didn't do a good job," said Tony DeMaiori, the former
president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers Union. "He is
The contractor declined to make Falk available to The Associated Press.
Kimpan, the program manager, said that under the new guidelines, site
reports would include more details regarding who contributed to them and
She also said there would be more oversight and more rigorous editing of
the reports, though she reiterated that the experts who ran the
monitoring programs would still be relied on.
One instance where there is some agreement of a problem involves the
report for the Paducah uranium plant in Kentucky.
Carol Berger wrote the report for the compensation contractor and
previously wrote an analysis assessing radiation exposure at Paducah for
an Energy Department contractor. Berger copied parts of her old report
into the new one, even though her earlier work had been challenged for
underestimating radiation hazards in a subsequent Energy Department study.
"Do I think a conflict of interest occurred at Paducah? Yes, I do," said
Elliott, of NIOSH.
The report is being revised.
On the Net:
Compensation Program: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ocas/
Oak Ridge Associated Universities: http://www.orau.org/
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