The Buffalo News - Northern Suburbs
Death of chemical worker spurs lawmakers to call for reform
By BILL MICHELMORE
News Niagara Bureau
NIAGARA FALLS - Former chemical worker Ernest Franke died of cancer Sunday, and City Council Member Paul Dyster was angry.
"I just came from a memorial service for Ernest Franke," Dyster said at a news conference held here Friday by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport. "The last press conference we had on this issue, he was standing with us. And today he's not."
Slaughter called the news conference in her Pine Avenue office to say she will introduce a reform bill in Congress next month to speed up compensation for thousands of people who were exposed to radiation while working on nuclear weapons programs at Niagara-area plants in the 1940s and 1950s.
Dyster was referring to a similar news conference held by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., outside a boarded-up chemical plant on Buffalo Avenue in December, which Franke attended.
But Franke, 80, didn't live to receive the compensation the federal government promised him and the other contaminated workers.
"Time is of the essence," Slaughter said Friday. "These people are an ill and aging segment of the population. We must act now to get them the benefits they need and deserve."
Dyster has sponsored two resolutions to spur government action. "We owe a huge debt to these people, and it's time we paid them," he said.
Two years ago, the federal government promised to pay $150,000 apiece to more than 3,700 former chemical workers in Western New York. Only 12 claims have been paid, Slaughter said.
"It's completely indefensible that after two years, the Department of Labor has approved less than 1 percent of all claims filed in Western New York," she said.
Wayne Dychowski, who worked in the Linde plant in the Town of Tonawanda for 30 years, died in 1984.
"Deadly radiation killed him at 49," his widow, Marilyn of Hamburg, told Slaughter. "And because he hadn't turned 50, I lost the company health insurance and surviving spouse pension. I've had many frustrating experiences with the Department of Labor."
Raymond Corsaro, 60, of Niagara Falls, was a maintenance worker at the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works in Lewiston, one of the sites of the secretive Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb.
"Four of us used to go into those buildings unprotected," Corsaro said at the news conference. "Three of the four are dead. I'm a cancer survivor at this point, but I'm very disabled."
Ralph Krieger, former president of Local 8-215 of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, said six members of the local died last year and two more died this week.
"The workers at these plants never knew what they were dealing with because of the secrecy surrounding the work on the bomb," Krieger said.
The federal government has spent $20 million trying to remediate one building on the Linde site, but won't pay the benefits it promised the families, he said.
"It continues to go on, and it's sad," said Krieger.
New York had more factories engaged in nuclear programs than any other state - 36 plants, including 13 in Western New York, many of them in Niagara Falls.
The hundreds of uncompensated people worked at such plants as Hooker Electrochemical, Titanium Alloys and Electro Metallurgical, all in Niagara Falls, Simonds Saw and Steel Co. in Lockport, Ashland Oil in the Town of Tonawanda, Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna and Linde Air Products in Buffalo.
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(Emphasis by Don)