Additional LANL Workers Will Receive Compensation for Their Nuclear Related Illnesses

Senator Tom Udall announced yesterday that the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health approved a petition granting “Special Exposure Cohort” (SEC) status to all LANL workers who developed radiogenic cancers after having been employed for at least 250 days from January 1, 1976 to December 31, 1995. This will extend the previous LANL SEC that covers workers from March 15, 1943 to December 31, 1975. It must be approved by the Secretary of Heath and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, reviewed by Congress, and then printed in the Federal Register before it takes effect.

Española rally for LANL workers in June of 2008. Photo by Kay Matthews

This has been a long time coming. Many workers who became sick during or after their tenure at LANL have had to struggle through the arduous dose reconstruction process in which the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) determines if a cancer is work-related. Many have already died. La Jicarita News co-editor Mark Schiller wrote extensively about the difficulties inherent in negotiating the claims process outlined in the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) of 2001, which in many cases places a nearly impossible burden of proof upon claimants who are also struggling with illness. Schiller highlights the role of worker advocates in guiding applicants through the claims process. Statistically, New Mexico nuclear workers have one of the lowest EEOICPA compensation rates in the country, so there is a clear need for this type of advocacy.

The previous LANL SEC petition covering workers from March 15, 1943 to December 31, 1975 was approved in May of 2007. That petition was submitted by Harriett Ruiz, widow of the late New Mexico State Representative Ray Ruiz who worked at LANL and died of lung cancer. This latest petition was submitted by LANL Security Guard Andrew Evaskovich in 2008 on behalf of “service support employees who worked in areas at LANL with a history of radioactive material use from January 1, 1976 through December 31, 2005.” Since 2008, NIOSH has been evaluating the petition and after a lengthy review, determined that there are not adequate personnel monitoring data to complete sufficiently accurate radiation dose reconstructions for the covered class (after initially denying the petition in 2009: see here). NIOSH shared its report with the Advisory Board at its meeting this week in Denver, and the Board approved a petition that will cover not only service support workers but ALL employees of LANL from 1976 through 1995. NIOSH and the Advisory Board will continue to evaluate whether workers from 1995 through 2005 merit Special Exposure Cohort status. If the SEC petition is enacted, as is now expected, those who qualify will receive a lump sum payment of $150,000 and health care coverage to treat their illnesses.

Moonlight singers from Santa Clara Pueblo at Española rally. Photo by Kay Matthews

There are many people who worked to make this happen: Harriet Ruiz and Andrew Evaskovich, who initiated the petitions; the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups; individual advocates Dr. Maureen Merritt and Ken Silver; Jerry Leyba, Ben Ortiz and others of the Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety (LAPOW), and Senator Tom Udall and his staff (particularly Michele Jaquez Ortiz), who introduced a bill in Congress in 2008 to compensate workers from 1976 to the present. Senator Udall said at the time, “The important national security work being conducted at LANL did not stop on December 31, 1975, and sadly neither did the harmful exposure to radiation that has caused cancer in so many workers. Post-1975 workers have done the same work and been diagnosed with the same illnesses. . . . This legislation would ensure that these workers who so generously served their country receive a small measure of justice in the form of compensation. It is tragic that these workers are forced to spend their remaining years battling both cancer and the government. These people spent their working lives trying to keep America secure. They deserve better than that. We need to do the right thing, now.”

It looks like the government is finally going to do the right thing. Following is a corrido written by David Garcia, from El Guache in the Española Valley, but who now lives in Austin, Texas and attends the University of Texas. His grandfather Pedro A. García worked at LANL as a machinist in the 1960s. He never got to meet him as he died before his 50th birthday. David wrote this corrido in his memory.

Corrido de Los Alamos                                       The Ballad of Los Alamos

Amigos pongan cuidado                                       Beware, friends, beware

De lo que pasa allá en la loma                             What takes place on the Hill

Esto sí, no es una broma                                       It’s no joke, it’s for real

LANL está bien contaminado                               LANL’s contaminated.

Buenos trabajos nos han dado                            Though they gave us good jobs

Pero muchos ya saben la verdad                         Many now know the truth

Y te cuentan la maldad                                          And they tell of the harm

De lo que ha hecho el laboratorio                       The Lab has caused

Los casos de enfermedad ya son notorios         Notorious cases of illness

Entre la gente de la vecindad.                              Among the nearby people.

Año de mil novecientos                                         In the year nineteen hundred

Cuarenta y tres ocurrió,                                         And forty three,

Que el Manhattan Project                                      The Manhattan Project

A estas tierras llegó                                              Came to these lands.

Sucedió todo en secreto                                      Up in those mountains

Por causa de la gran Guerra                               They built a laboratory

Y aquel laboratorio                                                It happened in secret

Se construyó allá en la sierra                              Because of the War.

Llegaron los militares                                           The military came

Con la guardia nacional                                       With the National Guard

Botaron todos afuera                                           And kicked out all the people

De ese lindo lugar                                                 From that beautiful place.

Todo el pueblo de allí                                           All the people up there

Vieron pues esa avanzada                                  Saw a military occupation

Les pagaron por su tierra                                    And were paid for their land

Nada o pues casi nada                                        Nil or next to nothing.

Y la bomba nuclear                                              And the nuclear bomb

Allí mero la hicieron                                             Then and there they constructed

Para destruir el mundo                                        To destroy the world.

¡Qué blasfemia cometieron!                               What blasphemy!

El lugar del Pajarito                                              The place called Pajarito

Como lo han destrozado                                      How they destroyed it

Con deshechos peligrosos                                   With dangerous waste

Se quedó contaminado                                         Now it’s contaminated.

Y por si eso fuera nada                                        And if that weren’t enough

A la gente le ha afectado                                      It’s affecting the people

Los muchos casos de cáncer                               With cases of cancer

Se nos han multiplicado                                       That keep multiplying.

Para las gentes del norte                                      For us in the North

Es un lugar muy sagrado                                       It’s a most sacred place

Para los del pueblo Tewa                                     For the Tewa peoples

Y también para el hispano                                    And Hispanos alike.

Ese LANL tan mentado                                        The oft-mentioned LANL

Excusas nos está dando                                       Only gives us excuses.

Justicia para el pueblo                                          Justice for the people?

Preguntamos ¿cómo y cuándo?                          We ask, when and how?

Los intereses privados                                         The private interests

Manejan todo el poder                                         Control all the power

Si no nos concientizamos                                    If we don’t wake up soon

Seguro nos van a joder                                        They’ll screw all of us over.

La salud de nuestro pueblo                                  Our people’s health

Se cambia por un sueldo bajo                              We swapped for low wages

Y el aire, el agua y tierra                                        Air, water and land

todo se manda al carajo                                       Is all sent to the devil.

Yo le canto a nuestra gente                                  I sing to our people

La gente trabajadora                                            The working people

No den el brazo a torcer                                       Give them no arm to twist

En esa maquiladora                                              In that sweatshop.

La economía militar                                             This military economy

Pues, ya no la aguanto más                                 I can’t stand it any more

Por eso sigo entonando                                       That’s why I give voice

mis pensamentos de paz                                      To my thoughts of peace.

Ya me voy ya me despido                                    Now I’m going, farewell

Les dejo esta noticia                                             But I give you my word

Porque el corrido termine                                    This ballad won’t end

Cuando se haga la justicia                                  Until justice is served.

Written by David F. García                                 Written by David F. Garcia

Alacade, New Mexico                                           Alcalde, New Mexico

                                                                             Trans. Eric Shultz, David F. Garcia

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8 comments

  1. Thank you Kay and everyone for the public recognition of my work and that of all the other advocates named above. Today is a day to celebrate another step in the march toward important victories for sick nuclear workers. Regarding the pictures above of the Espanola rally in 2008….I was there. What a day. I have toiled largely behind the scenes with my action group New Mexico Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocates. One of the successes of which I’m most proud was my initial idea/effort to create a State Office of Nuclear Worker Advocacy. Today, 4 years later…. that Office has helped hundreds of sick workers and their families to receive at least some compensation under EEOICPA and RECA. With my previous research on toxic exposures at the LANL, I knew it was very likely this new SEC day of victory would come eventually….but it took too many years! More workers have died in the intervening time since the last SEC was approved. But now, at least their survivors may be able to apply for and receive benefits. I am also hopeful that the very next Special Exposure Cohort will be initiated by NIOSH itself rather than by of the Lab workers… once NIOSH admits they cannot reconstruct dose for years BEYOND 1995. It may not extend all the way to 2005, but every additional year gained is important for all New Mexicans. I’d like to acknowledge Dr. Ken Silver, with whom I have enjoyed working over the last 10 years. He has a near encyclopedic knowledge of the historic documents, processes, incidents and accidents at LANL. I also wish to honor Mark Schiller’s memory; as co-editor and publisher of the La Jicarita along with Kay Matthews for many years, Mark simply did outstanding work! I never met an investigative reporter anywhere who could wade through reams of highly technical and often confusing subjects such as found in the controversial nuclear weapons world, and make it seem like an easy read. Lastly, I would like to remind folks that Cold War Patriots is a national non-profit dedicated to helping thousands of nuclear workers and uranium miners here in NM and throughout the US. I sit on the CWP advisory board; you can find our web site on the internet at http://www.ColdWarPatriots.org. Keep up the good work La Jicarita; you are a valuable source and force for good!
    Dr. Maureen Merritt, DO, CMO, OEM, LCDR (ret.) USPHS, physician advocate.

  2. If you were to ask me, I would freely say that many people helped make this happen. Moreover, I think it is appropriate to give recognition to the people that actually assisted with the petition: Harriet Ruiz for filing the first petition, editing the second petition, and her guidance. Joni Arends of CCNS provided documents, editing, and spoke to the Advisory Board about monitoring at LANL. Terrie Barrie of ANWAG provided editing and guidance. Antoinette Bonsignor of ANWAG provided editing and guidance. Danny Beavers of the Plumber and Pipefitters drove to Denver to address the Advisory Board. Loretta Valerio, Director of the Office of Nuclear Worker Advocacy, for assisted with research and editing, and obtaining affidavits. (Prior to her appointment to the President’s Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health) Senator Jeff Bingaman assisted by writing a letter requesting that the Advisory Board meet in New Mexico. Senator Tom Udall and his staff (Matt Padilla, Michele Jacquez-Ortiz, and Matt Miller) assisted with research and made comments to the Advisory Board. The Guards, Firefighters, and Crafts Unions attended meetings with NIOSH and the Board’s contractor SC&A and spoke about exposures and monitoring at LANL. Finally, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan called to the June meeting of the Advisory Board and asked for a speedy decision. I was told by the Advisory Board and by NIOSH that the attention of Senator Udall and Congressman Lujan helped to move the petition to a vote this week. I have to point out that Congressman Lujan took the time to go to Denver to address the Advisory Board concerning the petition. Dr. James Melius, Chairman ABRWH, commented that it was the first the Advisory Board had a member of Congress travel to another state to comment on a site. I give my thanks to these people.

    Andrew Evaskovich, LANL Petitioner

  3. It goes without saying that Andrew must have worked incredibly hard over the last 4-5 years on this petition. Several of us witnessed that effort first hand while attending the ABRWH meetings in ABQ and elsewhere. Kudos to him and to all our dedicated locals and Congressmen who helped push this latest LANL SEC toward acceptance. Indeed, a big thanks should go out to every SEC petitioner and advocate around the country who have so freely given of their time and energies to help sick nuclear workers everywhere. They are an amazing group! And lastly, sincere compliments to David Garcia on his moving memorial, The Ballad of Los Alamos.

  4. Obviously, judging by the comments, the success of this petition affects many peoples’ lives and the credit goes to more than those I mentioned. I would like to clarify that Ken Silver, who I identified as an “individual advocate” actually was a co-founder of LA POWS.

  5. I was a lanl employee. I went on medical leave. I submitted documentation for compensation. My case was denied. I did research on Occupational Illnesses in the workplace. I was categorized as Medical Leave due to illness which was not related to employees who were exposed to asbestos and exposure. I should be compensated. I got sick working at lanl. Can someone please guide me to the right direction.

    • Linda,
      Have you gotten in touch with the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy? I’m not sure if there is still an office in Española that helps employees fill out applications for compensation, but you might check that as well. Or get in touch with Tom Udall’s office in Santa Fe. His staff should should be to put you in touch with these groups or recommend further action.
      Kay

  6. On the 21st of April I will be atte attending a hearing conducted by the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR because i’m
    appealing the denial of a claim I made, the claim was that of COPD. i wiorked for LANL from 1963 to 1982 and was
    attached to ENG. 2, Engineering Facilities civil/strucyural section. Our Home Base was Bldg SM-43 TA3 third floor
    east wing for several years. It was here that we were given our assignments which were numerous sites or TA’s.
    I was classified as Senior Designer, fortunatly I kept records that I provided the LABOR DEPT. with. They are asking me
    to tell them where I was contaminated. My daugthter and I doing our best effort.

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