The past few years have seen an increase in the number of workers at a Panhandle nuclear weapons plant who have been compensated and given medical care for conditions caused by exposure to plant hazards.
Those hazards include chemicals in the maintenance warehouse, toxins on a production line and beryllium, a cancer-causing metal used in the production of nuclear warheads, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The paper reviewed federal totals for health care and compensation awarded for workplace-related illnesses at the Pantex plant near Pampa, Texas. About 20 percent of the worker claims for compensation were approved at the nation’s top facility for nuclear weapon assembly, disassembly and maintenance. Now, about half are being approved for workers across the 16,000-acre site, including auditors, firefighters, laboratory workers, janitors and security guards.
About $171 million in compensation and medical bills has been paid more than 1,300 workers and families since the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program began in 2000.
The number of claimants was beyond estimates by those who devised the program, said Sarah Ray, a former Pantex critical safety systems training specialist, who has filed thousands of claims on behalf of Pantex workers and their families since the program started.
“Overall, there just has not been a real grasp of the true situations faced by nuclear weapons workers,” said Ray, who believes that thousands more are unaware they’re sick because they have not developed symptoms.
Rachel P. Leiton, director of the Labor Department’s program, says the agency has over the years implemented shortcuts to ease access to the program for families.
“We try to the best we can to compensate them based on our statutory authority that we’re given,” she said.
Workers at Pantex undergo required annual physicals in which they submit blood samples sent for analysis to National Jewish Health, a Denver-based medical research facility that specializes in respiratory and allergic disorders.
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