Panel weighs new information in Rocky Flats case

By Laura Frank

Originally published 04:45 p.m., November 26, 2007
Updated 04:45 p.m., November 26, 2007

Federal scientists acknowledged Monday they have records suggesting workers from 19 buildings at the top-secret Rocky Flats site near Denver may have risked exposure to dangerous neutron radiation.

But after they answered questions from a presidential advisory board, it was still not clear why the government didn't see that information as evidence those workers were eligible for automatic financial and medical compensation for work-related cancers.

"This is certainly a concern to some people and we want to address it as quickly as possible," said Mark Griffon, who leads work on Rocky Flats for the White House Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health.

Earlier this month, the Rocky Mountain News reviewed data from a 2003 cancer study of Rocky Flats workers done by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the state health department.

Data collected for the study show more than 3,000 workers in 19 buildings at the now demolished bomb making site were at risk of exposure to neutron radiation. That risk is supposed to earn ill workers a chance at streamlined aid if they meet other criteria.

Most workers must prove a link between their toxic exposures and their illnesses, which can take years. But if records are missing and faulty, they can petition for streamlined aid.

Rocky Flats workers did just that more than two years ago. The Labor Department, which oversees the compensation effort, ruled that only a small group who labored from 1952-1966 and were potentially exposed to neutron radiation would qualify.

Brant Ulsh, a scientist for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told the advisory board he had reviewed the CU study and found that it contained no information the government didn't already have. The study was not among the information Ulsh presented earlier this year to the Labor Department to use when determining which Rocky Flats workers would be eligible for automatic aid.

Now, the issue is whether that decision should be revisited in light of the information about radiation in the 19 buildings.

Ulsh argued it would be unlikely for most workers in the 19 buildings to be exposed to dangerous radiation. He noted, for example, that Buliding 333 was a paint shop where no neutron radiation would be expected. Under that view, paint shop workers would not be eligible for the special status.

But Larry Elliott, who directs NIOSH's work on the compensation program, said the workers might have been assigned to one building, but performed work in others where neutron radiation existed.

Worker advocate Terrie Barrie of Craig participated in the teleconference with the officials Monday. Afterward, she said anyone who worked in any of the 19 buildings should be eligible for streamlined aid.

Barrie pointed out that the Labor Department recently ruled that everyone who worked in Building 881 between 1952-1966 is eligible for fast-track compensation simply because some workers there had measurable exposure to neutron radiation. Originally, those workers were not included.

"The law requires that this process be claimant friendly," Barrie said. "If you can't tell from the records which workers should have been monitored for neutron radiation, you have to give all of them the benefit of the doubt."

Advisory board members decided they will interview one of the CU study's authors to learn more about the records, then decide how to proceed.

© Rocky Mountain News

Source: Rocky Mountain News