Sickened uranium driller is fading

One of the few living uranium core drillers in the West is battling to get oxygen to his lungs after an aneurysm constricted his already difficult breathing.

Tom Green of Price, Utah, was taken by medical helicopter Saturday to Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, where he remained Monday on a ventilator, Green’s son Jeff said.

Tom Green suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and silicosis, which have been linked to his years as a core driller searching for uranium on the Colorado Plateau during the Cold War.

Unlike his contemporaries who dug for uranium in mines, Green is not eligible for compassionate payments from the federal government, even though his diseases are among those recognized as radiation related under the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act. That’s because Green’s job, core drilling, wasn’t listed an occupation for which compensation was available.

That could change under a bill introduced last week in the Senate that would add core drillers and others to the list of those eligible for $150,000 in compassionate compensation.

His father’s agony is an example of what awaits others, Jeff Green said.

“My mother called me and told me that Dad was smothering and could not catch his breath,” Green said in an e-mail.

Physicians told him that his father suffered massive damage to his heart because it had to work doubly hard as a result of the inability of his silicosis-scarred lungs to produce enough oxygen in his blood.

“We have another consult (today) with the heart surgeon but the outlook for him to be able to do anything for my dad is very grim,” Jeff Green wrote.

Ultimately, he said, “This is what’s going to happen to all of them who have silicosis.”

Federal officials heretofore have maintained that there is no connection between radiation exposure and diseases that would otherwise be compensable for uranium miners, millers and truck drivers.

The proposed changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, S. 3224, would make core drillers eligible for compensation. The measure by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but hearings have yet to be scheduled.


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