The Buffalo News - Western New York

Schumer wants N-workers' claims paid promptly


News Staff Reporter


Ed Walker, a Bethlehem Steel bricklayer from the 1950s who has bladder cancer, is joined by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, left, in news conference on delay in compensation for illnesses from radiation.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer pressed the federal government Monday to make good on its promise to compensate former workers at uranium-processing plants for their radiation-related illnesses.

The New York Democrat joined retired Bethlehem Steel Corp. workers and their relatives in a news conference in the Town of Tonawanda, where he berated the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, for dragging its feet on thousands of claims and denying many others.

"We have New Yorkers literally dying off as they wait for the payments that were promised them," said Schumer, who spoke across the street from the former Linde ceramics plant.

"I hope someone in Washington isn't thinking, "Well, people are dying off - the longer we wait, the less we'll have to pay out.' "

Thousands of workers' claims have been denied.

Ed Walker worked with 14 other bricklayers in the 1950s on a crew at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna that rolled uranium rods. Thirteen of those men died of cancer.

Walker was diagnosed with bladder cancer four years ago. The government denied his claim, saying his cancer was most likely not caused by radiation exposure.

"They promised people money, and now they're finding ways not to pay it," said Walker, 71, whose cancer is in remission.

In 2001, the federal government began offering a one-time compensation of $150,000 each to workers from 350 sites nationwide.

More than 51,000 people filed claims with the Department of Labor through Jan. 31, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office. About half of those claims were fully processed; 12,000 people were awarded money.

The government report noted that the claims processing at some sites has "essentially stopped." Specifically, it pointed to delays at sites whose claims are handled by NIOSH, where 12,000 claims are said to be somewhere in midprocess. The average claim there takes 17 months for processing. The report directed NIOSH to establish a timetable.

"We're currently working very hard to establish those time- tables," said Larry Elliott, director of the NIOSH Office of Compensation Analysis and Support.

NIOSH is processing 34 claims from Linde Air Products and 126 from Linde Ceramics in the Town of Tonawanda; 46 from Hooker Chemical and 89 from Simonds Saw in Niagara Falls; and 13 from Bliss & Laughlin Steel in Buffalo. More than 500 claims from Bethlehem Steel have been completed.


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