Nuclear workers still looking for compensation listen05/14/08 Seán Kinane
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Beginning in 1957, Pinellas County was home to a plant that built triggers for nuclear weapons. Some of that Largo plant’s former workers claim that they were exposed to toxic substances and are fighting for compensation.
Dave Bossard worked at the General Electric Neutron Devices plant for 34 years and eventually became a supervisor. His duties included supervising the area that contained the chemical storage building. He said the workers were exposed to 473 “deadly toxins … chemicals and radiation” that are still causing diseases in former workers.
One of the worst of the toxins, according to Bossard, was a mysterious chemical known as “Curing Agent Z.”
Bossard called a 1982 audit "26 years too late" because several workers have died. Bossard said he has had tissue removed from his ear, hands, arms and face because of several cancers caused by beryllium sensitivity. But the workers hoped for relief after passage of the Energy Employees Occupation Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, which went into effect in 2002.
A group he formed, Nuclear Workers of Florida, is helping the workers fill out their claims in the hopes that they will be compensated. They’ve gotten help from some elected officials, Bossard said.
“We have, like, 1,332 claims and maybe 5 percent have been paid. I’ve had Senator [Bill] Nelson looking into it, god bless him and his staff, they’ve taken the bull by the horns. Whereas Congressman [Bill] Young, like I said, he’s maybe helped two or three people, but turned his back on the rest of us. He’s been on TV a couple of times and he’s been just no help whatsoever and we’re tired of it. Nuclear Workers of Florida are going to keep on fighting until we get some satisfaction.”
Young will face a challenger in the fall for his District 10 Congressional seat. Samm Simpson is one of three people running for the Democratic nomination.
“The workers contacted me, maybe three or four weeks ago, when they became just so upset, that their Congressman Young was not responding to their needs,” Simpson said.
According to the website of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC), will expedite compensation for claims if the employee has “at least one of 22 "specified cancers" and worked at one of the SEC work sites.
Bossard said the Pinellas nuclear workers had received SEC designation. “But it’s gotta go through all these different steps. … Meantime the people get sicker. …”
The Nuclear Workers of Florida met Friday with the Department of Labor to explain what the workers were exposed to on a daily basis, Bossard said.
“They said, ‘Wow, we didn’t have no idea.’… Now you can go back to your department … and start filling some of these claims. …”
Simpson said she attended the meeting on Friday between the Nuclear Workers of Florida and the Assistant District Administrator from the Department of Labor David Miller.
“And I said to the Department of Labor … Why can’t you just safely assume a baseline that anybody that walked into these buildings was subject to [carcinogens] and toxics? His response was, ‘Yes, we may have to adjust our assumptions.’ … And what that means to me is they may make a way to take the onus off the workers and put the benefit into their hands without such stringent regulation.”
David Miller was not available for interview, but in an email response, the Department of Labor said it is re-examining the Pinellas County plant claims, and will process cases according to the statute.
Simpson said it is ironic that the contaminated building in Largo was transformed into a mini high-tech mall, called the Young-Rainey STAR Center, named after the member of Congress she’s trying to replace. Simpson said she plans to write a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in support of the Nuclear Workers of Florida.
“It’s a tragedy. … It’s eerily similar to what our veterans go through when they’re told they’re going to be taken care of and they’re not.”
Bossard said the process has been especially difficult for the spouses of the nuclear workers who have passed away.
“It was a dangerous situation, but people didn’t know what they were working with because they were concerned with the classification of the product. It was so classified that people weren’t allowed to talk what we did out there to their spouses at home. People who worked there and they died and the burden of proof was on the spouse, whether it be man or woman, and it wasn’t fair to them because they didn’t know. So they have to try to find out what he or she did out there and lots of times they come up just about empty.”
To contact the Nuclear Workers of Florida, call (727) 391-5682 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.