Utah man’s leukemia not covered under law

While Congress considers adding a new disease to the list of ones for which uranium-industry workers are eligible for compensation, the men who drilled dusty holes into the earth remain ineligible for benefits.

Tom Green of Price, Utah, today suffers from silicosis and pulmonary fibrosis and was
recently diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The first two of those diseases would make the 81-year-old eligible for compassionate payments from the federal government under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act if he had been a uranium miner.

The third, the leukemia, isn’t among the illnesses for which compensation is available, but Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., is seeking to make it a compensable condition.

Even though Green never worked underground, an investigator who is helping him with his case said she would apply for benefits administered by the Labor Department for him.

“His case probably still won’t go anywhere because he was a core driller, but I don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” investigator Becky Rockwell said.

Green didn’t work in the unventilated mines of the Colorado Plateau that scientists later found were inundated with cancer-causing radon.

He was a core driller, and he maintains federal officials have yet to acknowledge the danger of his work.

“Them boys who sit in their leather-back chairs,” he said, “they don’t know what kind of dust we were eating.”

Not only did core drillers stand at the hole, breathing in sandstone and, when they hit the seam, bits of radioactive carnotite, they also handled the core samples by hand, setting them out for geologists to examine.

Core samples are the bits of rock and dirt brought out of the earth in the drill pipe and set out for inspection to determine the depth at which ore could be found.

“The core driller actually handles” the ore, said Lester Rich of Grand Junction.

Rich was a core driller who suffers from no compensable disease, but he is recovering from surgery for colon cancer.

“I’ve taken high-grade stuff out of core barrels. I’ve held some pretty high-grade stuff in my hands.”

His doctor, Green said, blames radiation exposure for his predicament.

“Now I’ve got foot problems,” he said.

“With all this (national economy) bailout money, I kind of doubt whether any of us guys will ever get anything.”

For all his illnesses, Green said he still felt fortunate to have lived as long as he has.

“I guess I’m living on grace now,” he said.


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