Press Release

Higgins, Schumer, Gillibrand, Lee, Slaughter & Massa Announce Bill Ensuring Former Bethlehem Steel Steel Workers and Families Receive Compensation They Deserve

Apr 27, 2009

Today, Senator Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and
Congressmembers Brian Higgins, Chris Lee, Louise Slaughter and Eric Massa
introduced legislation in their respective Houses in Congress to allow former
Bethlehem Steel workers to receive compensation under the Energy Employees
Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). The Ed Walker Memorial
Act works to reform the compensation program for nuclear workers at Bethlehem Steel
and other former New York
atomic weapons production facilities, and allows them to receive the
compensation they deserve.

“Many Bethlehem Steel employees paid a steep price in
terms of their health for their work on behalf of this nation,” said Congressman
Higgins.  “This bill would bring resolution to a nearly decade long,
exhausting and undeserved struggle mounted by the workers and families who have
sacrificed so much.”

“Ed Walker’s tireless work on behalf of former Bethlehem
Steel workers was an inspiration to everyone he encountered and this
legislation wouldn’t exist today without his Herculean efforts,” said Senator
Schumer. “The Ed Walker Memorial Act will correct years of injustice for Western New York’s nuclear workers. These Cold War heroes
became dangerously ill developing the country’s nuclear weapons program, and
should not have to wait a minute longer for help.”

Over 800 former Bethlehem Steel workers or their survivors
have filed claims for compensation under the federal program for employees of
Department of Energy and contractors who have developed debilitating or fatal
diseases due to work-related exposure to radioactive material.

“The former employees at Bethlehem Steel 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. This legislation is a fitting way to honor the memory of Ed
Walker, a man who fought so hard to help all of those affected at Bethlehem.”

“These workers are heroes from the Cold War era who have
suffered with illnesses for decades and deserve just compensation for the
sacrifices they made to protect our country,” said Congressman Lee. “This
legislation will make many former Bethlehem
steel employees eligible for benefits they should have been able to receive for
years now.”

“These former Bethlehem Steel employees helped defend
and secure our country for future generations, and now we have an obligation to
compensate them for this dangerous work which robbed them of their health,”
said Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter.  “The Ed Walker Memorial Act
will go a long way towards ensuring that these workers get the assistance and
benefits they deserve.”

“This past weekend we observed Worker’s Memorial Day and
it’s timely that we are introducing this bill to provide the compensation
earned by the workers of Bethlehem Steel,” said Congressman Eric Massa. 
“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues of the Western New York Congressional
Delegation in this just and bi-partisan cause.”

From the 1940s
through the 1960s workers at
hundreds of facilities helped to build the nuclear arsenal that served as a
deterrent to the Soviet Union during the Cold
War. Without adequate monitoring or protections, many of those workers were
exposed to significant levels of radiation. The Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, NY
falls within the definition of an atomic weapons employer facility, however
many of the records for this time are unavailable or incomplete.

Under EEOICP, qualifying employees whose claims are granted
are entitled to $150,000 in compensation.  The National Institute of
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is responsible for determining each
EEOICP site profile through “dose reconstruction,” a scientific method that
calculates the radiation exposure that an employee encountered depending upon
his or her job within the facility.  NIOSH uses that dose reconstruction
in combination with other factors (including the type of cancer that the
employee has developed, as well as the length of time that has elapsed since
exposure) to determine the probability that radiation exposure caused cancer
development.  If the probability of causation is greater than or equal to
50 percent, the employee receives
compensation; if it is less than 50
percent, the employee’s petition is denied.  Payments to successful
petitioners are then handled by the U.S. Department of Labor.

the 804 claims that have been filed, 393 cases have been denied, and the
claimants and their families are left frustrated that the information they
provided in the lengthy application processes were not given the credence they
deserved.  Significant problems exist with NIOSH’s assessment of the
claims because very little data exists from the Bethlehem Steel site, as the
plant closed long ago.  The lack of data has made the dose reconstruction
process extremely difficult.  As a result, the Bethlehem Steel claimants
and their families have petitioned the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker
Health for a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) designation.  An SEC
designation would qualify all valid applicants for compensation without the
problematic dose reconstruction procedures.  However, this petition has
been held up for several years because of disputes over whether the validity of
surrogate data used from another contractor site, Simonds Tool and Saw, was a
proper source to reconstruct doses.  This bill would amend the criteria by
which employees can be added to a SEC. Under this bill, the Bethlehem facility would be added to the SEC, and therefore
eliminating the dose reconstruction process entirely for Bethlehem workers.  The bill also
automatically adds workers from other facilities to the SEC if their facility
has inadequate data.   If a person has an eligible cancer and
worked at a facility when weapons work was performed, and if the
facility does not have sufficient data to provide accurate dose
reconstructions, their cancer is presumed to have been caused by workplace
exposure and the person’s claim is paid. Under the legislation, workers would
be added to a special cohort if:

  • They worked at an eligible facility for an aggregate of at least 250 days, and;
  • Fewer than 50 percent of the total
    number of the workers at the facility were individually monitored on a regular
    basis for exposure to internal and external ionizing radiation using reliable
    methods under a formal health physics program or;
  • Individual internal and external exposure records for radiation are nonexistent
    or are not available, or;
  • To the extent that a portion of individual internal or external records are
    available for that period from such facility, the exposure to radiation at such
    facility cannot be reliably determined for greater than 2/3 percent of workers.

This legislation was named in honor of Ed Walker, a former
Bethlehem Steel employee, who was exposed to radiation while working at the
plant from 1951 to 1954.  Mr. Walker, founder of the Bethlehem Steel
Action Group, lost his fight with cancer in 2008.  Ed is survived by his wife Joyce Walker,
who with other members of the Action Group continues to advocate for fair
compensation for exposed Bethlehem Steel workers and their families.