The Buffalo News - Northern Suburbs

Linde Ceramics is granted 'cohort' status

By JOHN F. BONFATTI

News Staff Reporter

12/13/2005

Former Linde Ceramics workers, or their survivors, who filed claims for compensation because of exposure to cancer-causing radiation while working on atomic weapons projects got some good news Monday.

The federal government has classified those workers in such a way that it should be easier for them to get the $150,000 compensation payments being made under the federal Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation program.

Under the program, workers who worked at one of the covered facilities during the Manhattan Project and subsequently developed one of 22 radiation-related cancers were eligible to apply.

The government would then use whatever historical records were available from the time to estimate worker exposure and how likely that exposure was to have caused the cancer. If that likelihood was determined to be 50 percent or greater, then compensation would be awarded.

But for workers in facilities where there were few or no historical records, the program allowed for a so-called "special exposure cohort" in which no estimate of exposure would be formulated, and compensation would be awarded.

Monday's news is that Linde Ceramics in the Town of Tonawanda, where uranium processing was done for the federal government, has been granted that status.

"What great news," said Joseph Sebastian, a former international representative for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which represented workers at the plant. "We see our guys dying every day."

According to the program's Web site, 337 people have filed claims on behalf of former Linde Ceramics employees. Only 15 claims have been paid so far; another 112 have been denied. The remainder are being processed.

The special exposure cohort status is limited to those Linde Ceramics employees who worked at the site while the uranium work was being done, between 1942 and 1947.

Sebastian and other former Linde workers have argued the plant was contaminated with radiation long after the weapons work for the government was completed and have pressed the government to compensate those who worked at the plant after 1947 and developed cancer.

"They left the property contaminated," said Ralph Krieger, a union representative and former worker.

Buffalo attorney John Ned Lipsitz represents a man who came to work at Linde in the late 1950s.

"He was assigned to basically jackhammer a floor," he said. "If you breathed in the dust from this floor, you were getting a substantial dose of radiation."

Richard Miller of the Government Accountability Project, who pushed for and has monitored the implementation of the compensation program, said those who worked at Linde Ceramics after the atomic weapons work should remain hopeful.

"The thing that's important is that the [program's] advisory board is going to continue its review of the Linde site," Miller said. "And the time frames covered by this are not the last word on their ability to conduct dose reconstructions."

Linde Ceramics is one of 13 covered facilities in Western New York. The biggest one is Bethlehem Steel Corp., where former workers have been pushing for similar special exposure cohort status.

"I'm glad to see they're getting some justice out there," said Ed Walker with the Bethlehem Steel Action Group. "It's been a long time coming. I feel the only thing appropriate to do is follow up with Bethlehem Steel. They had a lot more records [at Linde] than we had at Bethlehem Steel."

email: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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