Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to swiftly approve the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health’s recommendation to compensate eligible retirees of Linde Ceramics facility for the illnesses caused from radiation exposure on the job. During the Cold War, employees of Linde Ceramics were exposed to radioactive materials, which then caused a variety of cancers and other injuries in many of those exposed. Since March 2008, these workers and their surviving families have petitioned the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for compensation under the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) program. Achieving SEC status at Linde Ceramics would eliminate the significant administrative burdens placed on workers, that nationwide have resulted in the denial of 68% of claims for compensation for these courageous men and women who dedicated their lives to the government in the Cold War effort.
“Linde Ceramics retirees and their families are closer than ever to finally receiving the compensation they so greatly deserve for their heroic service during the Cold War,” said Senator Schumer. “These men and women of Western New York sacrificed their own health and well-being for the advancement and security of our country, and I urge Secretary Sebelius to swiftly confirm the Advisory Board’s recommendation to bring these Cold War heroes and their families the justice that they deserve.”
“The Advisory Board spoke loud and clear that the former nuclear workers at Linde Ceramics and their families are owed this support,” said Senator Gillibrand. “These unsung heroes unknowingly sacrificed their health and well-being to advance our Cold War efforts during a critical time in our nation’s history. The federal government must act expeditiously to carry through with our commitment to these Cold War heroes, who have fought for years for this moment.”
During World War II and at the start of the Cold War, the federal government lacked the capacity to manufacture weapons in federal facilities and turned to the private sector for help. Workers at these facilities, including those in Western New York, like Linde Ceramics, handled radioactive materials. Although government scientists knew of the dangers posed by the radiation, workers were given little or no protection and many have been diagnosed with cancer as a result.
If not approved for the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) program, every Linde claimant who grew ill from exposure to radioactive materials must go through that process of “dose reconstruction” to estimate how much radiation exposure they suffered. This is a difficult process, first due to the fact that it is based on incomplete employment and medical data from decades ago. Under the dose reconstruction process, individuals are awarded benefits of $150,000 if they prove a 50 percent or greater likelihood that their work-related radiation exposure caused them to get cancer. These significant administrative burdens placed on workers are also met with disappointing results: nationwide claimants using the dose reconstruction process have resulted in the denial of 68% of claims for compensation. This burdensome, bureaucratic and technically incomprehensible process is unfair to the Cold War heroes from Linde Ceramics who deserve this compensation.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is responsible for accepting petitions to add classes of employees to the SEC program under Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Currently, the EEOICPA requires workers to prove through dose reconstruction that their cancers resulted from radiation exposure, unless they fall under the SEC program. Creating this SEC designation for former Linde Ceramics employees will spare them or their survivors from the arduous process of trying to individually prove that they or their loved ones were exposed to enough radiation to cause cancer. This would award them $150,000 in benefits if they worked at Linde Ceramics between 1954 and 1969. Designating these Linde employees as a class under the SEC program is in its last step to becoming official and it is now headed to Secretary Sebelius’ desk for final approval.
In their letter, Schumer and Gillibrand urged Secretary Sebelius and HHS to accept the Advisory Board’s recommendation and designate this class of employees for addition to the SEC without delay. This move would finally bring long-awaited compensation and justice to retirees and families of Linde Ceramics workers who sacrificed their health for the safety of our county during the Cold War.
A copy of the Senators’ letter to Secretary Sebelius appears below:
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 615F
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
We write on behalf of the sickened nuclear weapons workers from the Linde Ceramics facility located in the Town of Tonawanda, Erie County, NY. These workers have petitioned the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for compensation under the Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) program established under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) since March 2008.
On February 24, 2011 the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, appointed by the President to advise the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on its activities under EEOICPA, voted to recommend approval of Linde Ceramics SEC petition 00107, covering all employees that worked at the Linde Ceramics facility from January 1, 1954 through December 31, 1969. We are very pleased with the Advisory Board’s recommendation to compensate these Cold War heroes.
We strongly urge the HHS to accept the Advisory Board’s recommendation and designate this class of employees for addition to the SEC without delay.
Thank you for your attention to this critical request. If you should have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Anne Fiala in Senator Schumer’s office at 202-224-6542 or Ben Rosenbaum in Senator Gillibrand’s office at 202-224-4451.
Charles E. Schumer