The Buffalo News - Buffalo

BETHLEHEM STEEL

Denial of benefits discussed

By ANTHONY CARDINALE

News Staff Reporter

5/5/2004

Karl Sienkiewicz of Blasdell was 8 years old when his father, who worked with uranium at the Bethlehem Steel Corp., died of cancer at the age of 36.

In 1984 his mother, Dorothy, died of lung cancer at the age of 51.

"How do I get more evidence that my father's death was work-related?" Sienkiewicz asked federal officials Tuesday evening during a meeting about the denial of benefits for those who worked on atomic weapons production at Bethlehem Steel from 1949 to 1952.

About 250 cancer patients and survivors came to the Ismailia Shrine Center in West Seneca to ask why their claims were denied.

Sienkiewicz said his mother used to shake out the metal dust from the work clothes of his millwright father, Stanley, before putting them into the washing machine.

"Bringing the (uranium) dust home could have contributed to your father's cancer," said the panel's moderator, Dr. James Melius, former state director of occupational health and environmental epidemiology. "But it wouldn't apply to your mother, under the law."

Sienkiewicz said his family was denied benefits for his father's death because his claim didn't rise to the necessary 50 percent probability formula.

"They gave him only 48.6 percent," he said. "And they said to come back with more evidence. But they didn't say what evidence. That's not right."

Richard D. Miller, policy analyst with the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., said some denied claims can be revived, and he asked to see Sienkiewicz's paperwork after the session.

So far, 1,045 claims have been filed for former Bethlehem Steel workers or their survivors. Among cases with final decisions, 186 were approved - and $27.2 million paid - while 633 were denied.

Melius said a follow-up meeting will be scheduled with union representatives who were familiar with the working conditions in the mill where uranium was processed more than half a century ago.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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