Ex-Linde workers eligible to seek reparation for radiation exposure

The Buffalo News


Updated: 04/17/08 6:38 AM

There was some good news Wednesday for former workers at the Linde ceramics plant who have filed claims under a program compensating those who got certain cancers after being exposed to radiation generated by government atomic weapons development.

The Department of Labor will allow those claims to be considered despite redesignating a number of buildings at the site in Town of Tonawanda.

Under a previous interpretation, that redesignation would have made claimants ineligible for compensation.

“This is what we’ve been fighting for,” said Joseph Sebastian, one of the claimants. “All I wanted to do was make sure that our guys [were eligible], and this will make them eligible.”

The Department of Labor last year abruptly redesignated some of the buildings at the plant as Department of Energy facilities, after they had been classified as Atomic Weapons Employer facilities.

That change meant workers who were in those buildings could not file for claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program, which the federal government started after acknowledging it exposed unknowing workers to radiation while developing atomic weapons.

“This is fantastic news,” said Antoinette Bonsignore, a law school graduate who has been working as an advocate for Linde claimants.

Most of the Linde claimants worked in the redesignated buildings and absorbed radiation from those buildings long after the atomic work was done, she said.

The redesignation of buildings “eliminated all the residual radioactivity workers at Linde, so people who started after 1954 [when the work stopped] were eliminated,” she added.

The change in interpretation by the Department of Labor also will allow the workers as a group to file for a special status that would grant the compensation without subjecting claimants to a controversial dose reconstruction process.

Under that process, the government uses a formula to determine the likelihood that a claimant’s cancer was caused by exposure to radiation. If the formula indicates a less than 50 percent chance, the claim is denied.

But the law establishing the program also allows for a “special cohort status” that compensates all workers with radiation- related cancers if there is insufficient documention of their exposure.

Linde claimants filed a petition seeking that status within the past month, Bonsignore said. About 565 claims have been filed.

Sebastian and Bonsignore praised the offices of Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rep. Louise Slaughter. The legislators pressed the Department of Labor to reverse the redesignation.