The Buffalo News

Ailing workers hope to get payments tied to jobs at former N-arms plants

By THOMAS J. PROHASKA

NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU

4/6/2005

LOCKPORT - Gordon Jellings hopes the federal government pays him $150,000 before he dies.

Jellings, a worker at the former Simonds Saw & Steel plant here, needs a kidney transplant because his kidneys were damaged by the anti-rejection medicine he took after his 1997 heart transplant.

"How long is this going to take? I don't have a lot of longevity. Put me to the head of the line, will you?" asked Jellings, 66.

He blames his medical woes on having worked at Simonds in the years after it processed uranium for the former Atomic Energy Commission.

Before October, Jellings had no hopes of winning compensation. But last year's Defense Department authorization bill included a provision to pay workers $150,000 a year if their health was damaged by "residual contamination" - radiation left over from the nuclear processing.

Jellings was among about 35 Simonds alumni who attended a meeting held by the Labor Department Tuesday afternoon in the Holiday Inn here.

Robert Mosier, deputy director of the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation, said workers at other local plants, including Ashland Oil, Bliss & Loughlin Steel and Linde Ceramics, are being offered a chance at the compensation that formerly was available only to workers who were employed at the plants during their years of nuclear weapons processing.

In Simonds' case, that was between 1948 and 1956. Jellings started there in 1961 and worked 13 years. But the radiation is still there and was never cleaned up, according to Mosier.

However, applicants have to have cancer. No other diseases qualify for the $150,000 check. Grady Calhoun, lead health physicist for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said there's a formula to calculate the chances the cancer was caused by radioactivity. To win compensation, the formula must show the chances of radiation-induced cancer are greater than 50 percent. The chances differ for each type of cancer. Skin cancer is more likely to produce compensation than prostate cancer, for example.

Jellings said, "They had dust collectors out there. We used to eat our lunch under the dust collector. It wasn't a clean place - the whole plant was dirty - but it gave us some shelter from the sun."

Mosier said the Labor Department will open an office in Western New York this summer to process compensation requests, but until then, there is a toll-free number for help: (866) 363-6993.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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