Feds not handling women’s uranium claims

The clerks and secretaries who worked in the Atomic Energy Commission offices in Grand Junction during World War II and later during the Cold War handled ore samples and were frequently in and around milling products.

One of them, Patie Claypoole of Grand Junction, has developed a pulmonary fibrosis, a condition for which she could receive a compassionate payment from the federal government and medical care, except for one thing. She wasn’t a miner, miller or ore hauler, three occupations compensated in the 1991 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

As a federal employee, Claypoole is ineligible for any payments under current federal law, as she has been informed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the compensation program.

Proposed revisions to the law also don’t take account of her circumstances, and her letters to federal legislators have gone unheeded, Claypoole said.

Claypoole, who has difficulty speaking because of unrelated health issues, is not alone, she said.

Other women who worked in the Grand Junction offices of the former Atomic Energy Commission have been diagnosed with diseases that would be compensable under the radiation exposure compensation law and related legislation, except for the fact they were employed by the federal government, said Bill Chenoweth, a former federal employee who has worked under contract to the Justice Department to help administer the compassionate payments.

Had Claypoole worked for any of a string of federal contractors employed in milling in Grand Junction, “She would have been covered,” Chenoweth said.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, has introduced legislation that would include occupations such as core drillers, who drilled into the dusty Colorado Plateau to find uranium ore deposits, as compensable occupations. One core driller who suffered from silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis, Tom Green of Price, Utah, died this spring before Congress could act on the proposed revisions.

The original compensation act acknowledged the contributions of uranium miners to the United States’ Cold War effort. It offered $100,000 to miners suffering from terminal diseases related to radiation exposure, including emphysema, certain lung cancers and other illnesses.

Legislation adopted in 2000 increased the amount of the compassionate payment to $150,000 and added millers and ore haulers to the list of occupations for which compensation was available.

The most recent bill recognizes as eligible for compensation miners and millers who worked in the industry after 1971, but a question has arisen about whether people who worked as haulers between 1971 and 1990 would be similarly covered.

The Udall measure, S. 3224, also would set aside money for an epidemiological study of the health effects on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium-development communities.

The measure is awaiting a study by the Congressional Budget Office and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Colorado Democrats Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, along with Tom Udall and Republican Mike Crapo of Idaho and others, have written to ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to schedule a hearing on the bill to amend the original Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.


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