Harm from radiation, among families of nuclear workers
Some Atomic Energy Workers Passed Effects of Radiation and Chemical Exposure to their Spouses and Children Huntington News, June 3, 2013 – BY TONY E. RUTHERFORD, NEWS EDITOR “……“Big Jim” took a job working around radioactive elements in 1954 at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) in Piketon, Ohio. Workers told his daughter how they kept their lunches warm by laying them on uranium yellow cakes and poked fun of individuals who put around their clothing before painting. They wore radiation exposure badges, but by “doing his job” Jim later developed four cancers.
“My dad talked about the A plant, but he never told us what it was,” Joan Fearing (Big Jim’s daughter) said. “Mom washed his work clothes.” She passed away from a rare form of cancer too. “When my mother was dying, she still did not tell us what it was.”
The Cold War ended the arms race. Nuclear weapons were replaced with atoms for peace at electrical power plants. However, the atomic legacy appears passed to the 21st Century.
Now, Fearing pleads, “We have to lift the (currently perceived) A plant Cold War secrecy.” Her father worked in an accepted EEOICPA Special Cohort section of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant from 1954 to 1964, which qualified survivors for government benefits.
“Yet, During that time, workers didn’t have separate uniforms,” she continued. “Mom used to wash Dad’s work clothes, unknowingly exposing herself, and us, to whatever he brought home. She was pregnant with four of us children during those years.”
Due to the Cold War necessities of the United States security, nuclear workers would not speak about the radioactive exposures under which they worked. “They gave their lives and their health in service to their country,” she said.
“The shroud of secrecy was for the nation’s protection. I understand that. But you have to lift that secrecy. So many people could be suffering today and not know why,” Fearing said. “The silence has to be lifted for the sake of the children.”
She has spoken to others who have endured deaths of family members allegedly due to working in and around weapons grade radioactive devices.
For instance, there’s “Melissa,” whose father worked in the Palmer nuclear reactor lab at Princeton University during the Manhattan project. “He used to joke about everything being hot and brought home a contaminated table,” Fearing said. Melissa’s mother died of cancer at age 57. Melissa is sick now and seeks answers too.
An advocate for nuclear workers stated she knows of (at least) two others “who may have been affected by the workers’ contamination at home.”
And, one former worker recalled 1999 hearings in Piketon with Senators Dewine and Voinovich in attendance along with Congressman Ted Strickland. A widow testified that her husband worked in the E area of the 705 and had warned, “Never let the kids touch my work shoes.” As the audience gasped, she testified that the shoes are still in the attic.
Laying a portion of family history on the table, Fearing asks, “We know my dad was part of the special cohort. We know my mom washed his contaminated work clothes. We know my mom died of cancer. We know there is illness in the children. How did that happen?”
“My hope would be that more families would know what they are dealing with so they could seek proper medical care. It would help if the government would own up to the fact that there are many family members of these nuclear workers who are ill today that were exposed during the Cold War. Otherwise, if survivors hear from doctors that their conditions are genetic, that it runs in the family, they will never know if they are sick because of this legacy from the A plant or if it is a genetic cancer. They need that information to make informed medical care decisions.”
On his death bed, Ms. Fearing’s father did not speak of specific exposures. “He never told us. He died silent,” she said.
Similarly, Fearing revealed, “I don’t know if my mother would have had a different outcome if we could have told her [Michigan] doctors about her exposures.” Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one related to ovarian cancer, her mom did not speak of her husband’s plant work.
“One of my mother’s doctors suggested that all five of us daughters might want to consider having our ovaries removed,” Fearing revealed. “I was horrified. The doctor made that suggestion because she didn’t know about mom’s exposures and assumed this was genetic.
These are the kind of life-changing medical decisions people face due to continued secrecy.”
However, Ms. Fearing herself is ill. Prior to her returning to Portsmouth, a New Jersey physician detected traces of uranium in her hair. For now, Ms. Fearing only alludes to medical history specifics due to privacy concerns.
NOT ALONE BUT HOW MANY
Under current Department of Labor standards, employees who contracted 22 specific cancers and worked at gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Kentucky, Portsmouth, Ohio, or Oak Ridge, Tennessee before February 1, 1992. http://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/regs/compliance/law/SEC-Employees.htm
Ironically, many portions of the veil are no longer classified. Former workers and spouses have kept their mouths tightly shut, recalling a do not tell signature under penalties of fines and criminal prosecution.
When the “secrecy” was intact in 1994, a plant guard and safety representative made a life or death decision. His co-worker had been exposed to radiation at the plant. He lay dying at a nearby hospital. Treatment depended at least on a partial disclosure of the radiation types experienced in the X-326 building…….
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