Ex-workers push on compensation for radiation exposure at Linde

By John F. Bonfatti NEWS STAFF REPORTER Updated: 03/04/08 6:44 AM

When it was unveiled in 2001, a federal process designed to pay those who got cancer after being exposed to radiation while working on U.S. atomic weapons was touted by the government as being “claimant friendly.”

That has been a false promise, former workers from the Linde Ceramics plant in the Town of Tonawanda said Monday as they pressed the government to correct what they feel is the unjust way the program has been run.

About a dozen former workers and their family members gathered at the Buffalo office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N. Y., to announce they would seek compensation for all who have filed Linde claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program.

Specifically, the workers will try to have the government declare that they deserve blanket compensation because there are insufficient records available to accurately measure their exposure.

Their argument for what is called “special exposure cohort status” parallels the arguments made by former Bethlehem Steel workers who have filed claims under the program. Bethlehem Steel rolled uranium for the federal government in the early 1950s.

“You have to remember, they took no readings,” said Joseph Sebastian, who worked in the Linde plant, now the location of Praxair, from 1954 to 1982 and said he took part in the cleaning of Building 30, where uranium ore was processed for the Manhattan Project. “Or if they did, it was covered up.”

Antoinette Bonsignore, a University at Buffalo law school graduate who is helping the Linde workers, criticized the profile of the site prepared by the government to guide decisions about claims.

“They have not looked at all at the authoritative document of what went on in that building,” she said. That document, she maintained, remains classified.

Many of the claims in the program are analyzed with the site profile and a complicated formula that produces a number that corresponds to the likelihood that a claimant’s cancer was caused by exposure to the radiation.

Those whose likelihood is at least 50 percent get the compensation. Those below 50 percent don’t.

As of Monday, 399 former Linde workers or their surviving family members had filed claims under the program, which pays successful claimants $150,000 plus some medical benefits.

Of the 138 Linde cases that were subject to dose reconstruction, 70 have received final denial, while 68 have received final approval.

One of those who has been denied is Ray Peterson, 75, who worked in a variety of jobs at Linde from 1951 to 1992 and has bladder cancer.

“I know of no other reason why I would have this cancer,” he said.

Schumer, Sen. Hillary Rod-ham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fair-port, all endorsed establishing a special cohort of plaintiffs for the former Linde workers.