Panel recommends expanding coverage for ex-Rocky Flats workers
LAKEWOOD – A federal panel voted Tuesday to recommend special medical compensation for about 4,000 more former workers at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, but stopped short of including everyone who had worked there.The decision still leaves about 15,000 former workers – some of them with life-threatening diseases they blame on conditions at the plant – without coverage.The new vote by the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health would extend coverage to people who worked at the plant from 1959 to 1966. The board’s recommendation next goes to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which in turn makes a recommendation to Congress, which makes the final decision.Previously, the board had recommended special coverage to workers from 1952 to 1958. The two recommendations together still left about 75 percent of the former workers without coverage. Workers can still apply for individual exemptions.The decision angered Dennis Romero, 54, who worked at the plant for 18 years and underwent a procedure to remove his diseased thyroid, a condition he blamed on his job.”They’re picking and choosing who they will take care of. I’m on medication. My thyroid is dead. It’s all based on greed,” he said.Currently, the former workers must prove their diseases were the result of exposure to plutonium or other chemicals at the plant in order to get compensation.Former workers at 21 other nuclear sites can get government benefits simply by showing they have a form of cancer that can be caused by radiation.Jennifer Thompson, a former Rocky Flats worker who wrote the petition for special compensation, said the board’s latest recommendation would be appealed.She said the decision was made without sufficient data on the workers or their conditions.”Obviously, the ruling today was heartbreaking,” she said.Colorado’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the advisory board in May saying the government has delayed providing compensation for the workers and has put obstacles in the path of legitimate claims.Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., criticized Tuesday’s vote, saying the board “failed the former Rocky Flats workers once again.”The plant 15 miles northwest of Denver made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. It opened in 1951 but was shut down in 1991 after a troubled history that included several fires. The FBI raided it in 1989, investigating claims that its operator had knowingly discharged chemicals into creeks that flowed into municipal water supplies, burned toxic waste and failed to adequately monitor groundwater.The company, Rockwell International, was fined $18.5 million after it pleaded guilty to 10 hazardous waste and clean water violations.—On the Net:Report of study of Rocky Flats workers: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/rfpworkerstudy/RockyFlatsFinalNIOSHR eport-text.pdf
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