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Originally published October 21, 2012 at 8:24 PM | Page modified October 22, 2012 at 9:16 AM

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Compensation rules eased for Hanford workers

More Hanford workers will be eligible for compensation if they develop certain cancers that medical research has linked to radiation exposure.

Tri-City Herald

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Rules have been eased to offer $150,000 compensation to more nuclear workers who contracted cancer after working at Hanford as recently as 1983.

Previously, the eased rules, which are allowed for groups designated "special exposure cohorts," were available for workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation from Oct. 1, 1943, through June 30, 1972.

The special exposure cohort now has been extended through 1983.

Hanford workers who were employed at least 250 days at Hanford before 1984 will be eligible for automatic compensation if they developed certain cancers that medical research has linked to radiation exposure.

A reconstruction of their estimated radiation exposure won't be needed to show they got enough radiation to cause the cancer.

The covered cancers, with some restrictions, include bone cancer; renal cancer; some leukemias; lung cancer; multiple myeloma; and some lymphomas and primary cancers of the bile ducts, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, liver, ovary, pancreas, pharynx, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid and bladder.

The U.S. Department of Labor plans town-hall meetings at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Hall in Pasco to provide information to workers or their survivors, who also may be eligible.

The expansion of the special exposure cohort to cover workers through 1983 was recommended by the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health in June.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services accepted the recommendation and agreed to expand the special exposure cohort in August. The law required Congress be given 30 days to object. When there was no objection, the expanded special exposure became official in September.

Some workers whose previous claims for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program were denied now could be eligible for compensation. That includes a $150,000 payment plus medical coverage.

In addition, the expanded special exposure cohort could help workers who might later develop cancers and file a claim, and it could help workers who have claims in process win quicker approval.

Special exposure cohorts are formed for groups of workers when their previous radiation exposure cannot be adequately estimated.

Hanford workers' internal exposure to neptunium, thorium, uranium 233 and highly enriched uranium could not be adequately estimated for Hanford employees before 1984, according to the national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

From World War II through the Cold War, Hanford produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear-weapons program.

In addition, other specialized research and production work with radioactive materials was done there.

The compensation program, which also includes help for workers who developed cancer or other illnesses because of exposure to hazardous chemicals, has paid out $776 million in compensation and medical benefits to Hanford workers or their survivors. In addition, the program has paid almost $140 million to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers or their survivors.

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