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.
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.
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