A government program pays compensation to the survivors of former nuclear workers who died of cancer. If Young had died from any of 22 kinds of cancer on a federal government list, the $150,000 in compensation to his survivors would have been virtually automatic.
But Young, it turned out, didn’t have the right kind of cancer.
Prostate cancer and skin cancer are not on the automatic payout list because they are so common. So the government turned to a formula it established to gauge the chance that radiation exposure caused his cancer.[…]
In Arnold Young’s case, the government found a 49.18 percent chance that radiation caused his prostate cancer.
So in 2011, the U.S. Labor Department rejected his widow’s claim.
But the family has objected to the ruling because the government considers only post-war radiation exposure when calculating the chance.
As a result, none of the work Young did around uranium at the old Electro Metallurgical Co. plant during World War II counted when the government calculated the chance radiation caused his cancer.
The work he did there from 1941 to 1945 was part of the Manhattan Project effort to develop an atomic bomb.
“He was just a working guy,” Kevin Young, 74, said.
Among other work, the plant processed uranium tetrafluoride received from Union Carbide’s Linde Air Products Division. Workers reacted that radioactive material with magnesium in induction furnaces to produce uranium metal that was cast into ingots and shipped out for rolling at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna.
The rolls were shipped to the government’s nuclear reactors.
“He was a welder, a fabricator,” Kevin Young said. “I don’t know if he was in the maintenance department or what, but he worked around equipment that was doing the production, the furnaces, whatever they had there at Electro Met. He was in that environment every day, working on the equipment that processed the radioactive materials.”
After the war, the Atomic Energy Commission awarded contracts for more work on radioactive materials to 382 companies around the nation, including many in Western New York.
Most cancer-stricken former workers from Electro Met, Bethlehem Steel and other plants, or their survivors, already have received credit for their radiation exposure. For them, and for those at dozens of other plants, the Labor Department created a “special exposure cohort,” applying to years when the radiation dosage can’t be adequately reconstructed because of poor or non-existent records.
“They don’t make any attempt to estimate the dose. They just pay the claim,” Stephens said.
But for those with prostate cancer or skin cancer, it’s a different story.
“People with prostate cancer at Bethlehem Steel are running into the same problems the Young claim is,” Stephens said.
Stephens contends the 2000 law that established the compensation payments does not give the Labor Department the authority to assign a zero value to radiation in any time period. The law tells the department to make a “sufficiently accurate estimate,” he said.
Stephens said it’s obvious that zero is not an accurate estimate.
By giving the workers credit for their work during wartime, many more $150,000 payments would have to be made by the program. Already, 115,000 people have been paid a total of about $14 billion in death benefits for cancer caused by radiation.