Officials OK faster Cold War compensation

The decision affects St. Louis workers exposed to uranium.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:18 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The Department of Health and Human Services has given the go-ahead to speed up payments to some Missouri Cold War-era workers stricken with cancer from exposure to radiation, Sen. Kit Bond’s office said Tuesday.

The decision takes effect 30 days after it is submitted to Congress, unless Congress halts the payments.

In a February meeting in St. Louis, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended expedited payments for Mallinckrodt Chemical Co. employees with 22 types of cancer tied to radiation exposure.

At that same meeting, the institute recommended faster payments for former workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown, Iowa. But since then, the institute has decided to again review whether to recommend faster payments for the Iowa workers. A hearing is scheduled for April 25-27 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said Maureen Knightly, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

The employees who worked from 1942 to 1948 at the Mallinckrodt plant in St. Louis, or their survivors, will be eligible for compensation of up to $150,000 from the federal government.

“I’m just so happy — so ecstatic for these people,” said Denise Brock, whose father worked at Mallinckrodt and died of cancer in 1978. Brock’s family was previously compensated, but she has long been an advocate for other stricken workers and their families.

“This will allow for payments to people who would have never received compensation,” said Brock, of Moscow Mills. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve lost since I started this. Now, people will see this — an apology is what it is.”

Bond, R-Mo., also lauded the department’s decision to waive the need for dose reconstruction, eliminating a time-consuming bureaucratic process that could have slowed down payments for several years.

But Bond called for expedited payments also to those who worked at Mallinckrodt from 1949 to 1956. Faster payments for those employees will also be considered at the hearing in Cedar Rapids.

“Justice has been served for some of the Mallinckrodt workers, but the federal government cannot leave these other workers behind,” Bond said.

Workers at Mallinckrodt processed uranium for the government and were exposed to large doses of radiation. At the Iowa plant, nuclear bomb components were tested and warheads were assembled and disassembled. Workers there dealt with uranium and several other materials now known as hazardous.

Congress set up a program in 2000 giving special exemption that allowed for faster payment of claims to workers at nuclear plants in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alaska, but workers at lesser-known plants such as those in St. Louis and Iowa were left out.

Without approval for expedited payments, the government requires doctors to investigate each claim and review work histories, plant records and monitoring data to determine if an employee’s exposure merits approval.

Workers at both the St. Louis and Iowa plants had trouble supporting their claims because records were lost.

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