The Buffalo News - National

House widens N-compensation

Ex-workers at 5 more area plants to get payments


News Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - Congressional negotiators Friday struck a deal to dramatically broaden the number of former nuclear workers eligible for compensation for illnesses resulting from radioactive contamination.

Under a bill that passed the House on Friday and is expected to pass the Senate shortly, former workers at five additional Western New York plants will be eligible for payments of up to $150,000 and medical coverage for some cancers.

Those plants include Bliss and Laughlin Steel of Buffalo, Linde Ceramics and Ashland Oil, both of the Town of Tonawanda, Simonds Saw and Steel of Lockport and the West Valley Demonstration Project. Congressional staffers estimate that hundreds of additional Western New Yorkers will now be eligible for aid.

"Federal compensation for these sick and injured workers is long overdue," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, who worked with Reps. Jack F. Quinn Jr., R-Hamburg, and Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, to win passage of the proposal.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who led the Senate push for expanded compensation, agreed.

"Our atomic weapons program workers are true Cold War heroes, and this amendment will help those workers get the compensation that Congress promised them in 2000," she said.

The extension, included in the federal defense authorization bill for 2005, covers people who started work at factories after weapons production stopped, but while contamination remained there. The law previously covered only workers who were at the plants while nuclear work was going on there.

Workers at several other local plants also might eventually be eligible for aid. Under the bill, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has until the end of 2006 to update its list of facilities where contamination continued after the end of nuclear production.

Plants that could be added to the list include Seaway Industrial Park in the Town of Tonawanda and three Niagara Falls facilities: Hooker Electrochemical, Carborundum and Titanium Alloys.

Bethlehem Steel's Lackawanna facility is not included in the expansion because the federal government reversed its initial decision that the plant had significant radiation contamination once weapons work stopped there.

The defense authorization bill also includes other provisions that will benefit former nuclear workers in Western New York. For example, it requires the federal government to set deadlines to do "site profiles" of the facilities, which are key to allowing individual claims to be processed. And under a provision authored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a resource center will be set up in Western New York that will help former nuclear workers with their compensation applications.

"We have New Yorkers literally dying off as they wait for these payments that were promised to them," Schumer said. "Now they will hopefully get some help filing their claims so they can get the compensation they deserve."

That's how Gordon Jellings, a former Simonds Saw employee, feels about it, too.

"This has been an uphill fight," he said.


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