May 06, 2010

Higgins, Slaughter, Lee, Schumer & Gillibrand Announce National Institute for Occupational Health & Safety Meeting in WNY

Advisory Board to Hear Concerns of Bethlehem Steel, Linde Ceramics, Hooker Chemical & Rochester University Workers & Families

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27), Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28), Congressman Chris Lee (NY-26), Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced details of an Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health meeting to be held in Western New York.  The meeting comes at the request of the Western New York federal delegation who sent a letter calling for a local meeting to provide an opportunity for local radiation workers to be heard. 


The Board is appointed by the President to advise the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on policies related to benefits provided under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP).  During the 1940s through the 1960s workers at facilities across the nation helped to build the nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.  Without adequate monitoring or protections, many of these people were exposed to high levels of radiation, including former employees at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, NY, Linde Ceramics in Tonawanda, NY, Hooker Chemical in Niagara Falls, NY, and the University at Rochester in Rochester, NY.


“For too long former Bethlehem Steel workers and those employed at other local facilities have been made to jump through hoops to demonstrate the obvious and devastating health related side effects resulting from their service to this nation,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.  “I am pleased that the Advisory Board has agreed to hear first-hand from local residents so significantly impacted by their workplace exposure.”


“It’s about time that our local workers who helped us win the Cold War get home field advantage to make their case,” said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. “They've had 10-year-long ordeal to get the benefits they deserve and that's unacceptable. I was among the earliest supporters of legislation to ensure access to necessary medical treatment and compensation from the government, in recognition of the harm done to them and am pleased that the Advisory Board will come to Western New York to hear from them directly.”


“It’s important that those who were employed at these facilities have the opportunity to tell their personal stories and voice their concerns about the result of their exposure to toxic materials,” said Congressman Lee. “Leaders in Washington must understand the full extent of these workers’ sacrifices for our nation.”


“Nothing is more powerful than seeing people and hearing from them first hand,” said Schumer.  “I am hopeful that a face to face meeting could bring real change and bring the workers and their families the compensation they deserve.” 


“Former employees from across western New York and the Finger Lakes have been neglected for far too long, and should not have to scale a mountain of red tape or prove the un-provable before receiving the compensation they deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These unsung heroes unknowingly sacrificed their health and wellbeing to advance our Cold War efforts during a critical time in our nation’s history. Those affected at Bethlehem Steel, Linde, Hooker and University of Rochester must have an opportunity for their cases, not just heard, but responded to.”


The Advisory Board will hold its next meeting at the Niagara Falls Crown Plaza Hotel from May 19 – May 21.    The meeting agenda allows time for discussion on the University at Rochester Atomic Energy Project at 11:45am on May 19th, Hooker Chemical at 3:15pm on May 19th, Linde Ceramics at 4pm on May 19th and Bethlehem Steel at 1:30pm on May 20th.  Public comments will also be heard at 4:30pm on May 19th and 6pm on May 20th.


Members of the Western New York federal delegation have also sponsored “The Ed Walker Memorial Act” (H.R. 2114/S.916), legislation aimed at providing deserved compensation to Western New York nuclear workers.  Several local sites fall within the definition of an atomic weapons facility however many of the records are incomplete making it difficult for former employees to qualify for compensation.  NIOSH is responsible for determining eligibility through “dose reconstruction,” a scientific method that calculates the radiation exposure that an employee encountered depending on a person’s job within the facility.  Under the EEOICP, employees whose claims are granted are entitled to $150,000 in compensation.