Udall discusses new bill with Rocky Flats workers
BROOMFIELD ” Former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant workers expressed guarded optimism Monday about a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last week that would make it easier for them and their families to seek compensation for illnesses contracted through exposure to radiation and toxins at the plant.
“We’re happy that they’re acknowledging our sacrifice,” said 52-year-old Judy Padilla, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after spending 15 years working with weapons-grade plutonium at Rocky Flats. But, she added, she would wait and see if the bill actually passes.
About a dozen workers and family members gathered outside the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, just five miles from the site of the old plant, to meet with bill sponsor Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. They posed for photographs with Udall while holding banners, American flags and pictures of family members they say died as a result of their jobs at Rocky Flats, which manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads.
The contaminated plant shut down in 1992, and most of the buildings were removed by 2005.
Udall, a Democrat, joined a meeting of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council to discuss progress of the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Compensation Act ” legislation that Udall says will shift the burden of proof from the workers and their families to the federal government. Current law makes it difficult for victims to win their court cases and receive compensation for medical bills and other losses, Udall said.
The bill is named for a Rocky Flats worker who died of brain cancer this year at age 50.
“Imagine trying to reconstruct exposure you’ve had to chemicals and radiation. … It’s near impossible,” Udall said of the challenge to workers and families of proving to the court that their illnesses were caused by their jobs at the plant.
“We have tough fiscal times,” Udall said, acknowledging that coming up with the money to pay victims would be a challenge with budget constraints. “But we take care of our veterans … and Rocky Flats workers are veterans of the Cold War.”
Yvonne Garrimone, 32, hopes the bill will end the eight-year legal battle she has helped fight on behalf of her father, Danny Adkins. Adkins died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer at age 47 after working at Rocky Flats for more than 20 years.
“If it passes, it’s great,” Garrimone said.
She said her father’s job was classified, so he couldn’t discuss it with his family. “For us to have the burden to prove is too much,” Garrimone said.
Judy Padilla is trying to prove that her cancer was caused by her work at the plant. Five of her male co-workers also contracted breast cancer and only one is still alive today, she said.
“Our plant is gone, our records are gone ” they’ve been destroyed,” Padilla said. “We have no proof.”
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