5 seek funds for ex-Bethlehem N-arms workers

By John F. Bonfatti NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Updated: 05/04/07 6:50 AM

Five of Western New York's representatives in Congress have joined together to push the federal government to compensate former Bethlehem Steel workers who were exposed to radiation while working on U.S. atomic weapons programs and subsequently got cancer.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Reps. Brian Higgins, Louise Slaughter and Thomas Reynolds, have criticized the way the federal Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program has been handled.

On Thursday, they called for the program's overseers to establish a special exposure cohort, which allows for compensation to be granted in the event not enough information is available to ascertain how much radiation workers may have been exposed to when the work was done.

The special cohort exposure would cover Bethlehem Steel employees who worked at the plant from 1949 through 1952, when the government secretly milled uranium at the plant.

Advocates for the local workers have argued there aren't enough records from that time to accurately measure who was exposed, making it impossible to reconstruct the possible dose they received.

The program's administrators have based many of their reconstructions on more complete records at Simonds Saw and Steel Co. in Lockport, where similar work was done.

But critics of the program's administration say those reconstructions underestimate workers' exposure and that hundreds of claims have been improperly denied.

Under the program, workers at a number of atomic weapons facilities who subsequently got certain cancers - or their survivors - are eligible for $150,000 and medical benefits.

If the cohort status is granted, claimants would be exempt from the reconstruction process.

As of Wednesday, only 504 of the 2,164 Bethlehem Steel claims filed had received final approval. Another 1,270 have been denied.

jbonfatti@buffnews.com

Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News

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