SPOKANE, Wash. — Jacklyn “Jackie” O’Neil grew up in the Spokane Valley drinking milk from her family’s backyard cow.
Decades later while working in Yakima, O’Neil learned she had thyroid cancer that could have been caused by clouds of radioactive iodine 131 released from Hanford’s plutonium plants with no public warning in the 1940s and ’50s.
The worst risks came from drinking contaminated milk, a $27 million government study concluded four years after the radioactive releases were first made public in 1986.
The 81-year old had her thyroid surgically removed in 1998. Hoping to recoup some of her medical bills, she’d also joined a major lawsuit against the corporations who ran Hanford. It was filed in 1990 after the government admitted the Iodine 131 emissions likely harmed some infants and children in the Inland Northwest.
Now, with her memory and health faltering and with dim prospects for a trial date, O’Neil is hoping for a modest settlement.
Kirkland & Ellis of Chicago, the lead law firm for the nuclear contractors, offered her $15,000 two years ago.
She rejected that offer after consulting her husband James O’Neil, a club manager and a former drummer with the Billy Tipton Trio who died of bladder cancer last year.
After her husband’s 2012 diagnosis of terminal cancer, Jacklyn O’Neil asked her lawyer, Richard Eymann of Spokane, to accept the earlier settlement offer.
In response, the firm offered $10,000, saying the previous offer was only good for 30 days.
“Our new offer reflects the fact that Ms. O’Neil has a weak case with no realistic hope of success at trial,” attorney Bradley Weidenhammer wrote in a March 2012 email.