June 7, 2016 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At Reveal, Jennifer LaFleur writes about the U.S. veterans who witnessed the country’s many nuclear weapon tests, the health problems they’ve encountered in the decades since their service, and their fight for compensation. One of the “atomic veterans” LeFleur interviewed — Wayne Brooks — said: “We were used as guinea pigs – every one of us. They didn’t tell us what it was gonna do to us. They didn’t tell us that we were gonna have problems later on in life with cancers and multiple cancers.” LaFleur writes:

All of the atomic vets were sworn to secrecy. Until the secrecy was lifted decades later, they could not tell anyone about their experiences. Even if they became ill, they could not tell doctors they might have been exposed to radiation.

Scientists had known from the earliest days of building the atomic bomb that radiation posed risks. Research found increased rates of certain cancers among the survivors of the Japanese bombings. It also showed that the children of survivors were more likely to have smaller heads and physical disabilities.

But there never was a coordinated attempt to study or track the health effects of radiation on the atomic vets or their children.

“They never used the knowledge that they could have gotten from us,” Brooks said. “They could have watched us all our lives and seen what it did, but they didn’t. They dropped us like a hot potato.”

LaFleur also reports about impacts on the families of atomic veterans. She interviewed Navy veteran Lincoln Grahlfs, 93, an atomic vet who was assigned to work a series of nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. She writes of Grahlfs:

He knows that he is fortunate to be alive, despite health problems that include several bouts with skin cancer and prostate cancer over the years.

Grahlfs gets about $650 per month in compensation for skin cancer. He applied for compensation in August 2012, though it took nearly two years for the money to show up.

His bigger concern is what his exposure might have done to his children and grandchildren.

Grahlfs’ daughter suffered from endocrine problems throughout her teenage years and died of a malignant brain tumor in 1996 at 46. One son has bipolar disorder. Another has Addison’s disease, a rare adrenal condition. His granddaughter was born with a deformed foot.

“That’s a pretty full plate for somebody who never had any history of any of these things in my family,” Grahlfs said.

To read the full investigation, visit Reveal.

In other news:

The Hill: Lydia Wheeler reports that the Department of Labor is proposing new rules to improve miner safety. The proposed rules would require mining companies to examine the worksite before miners begin working and notify miners of any issues that may impact their safety and health. The examination records would then be made available to federal inspectors and worker representatives. Wheeler writes: “Under current (Mine Safety and Health Administration) standards, a workplace examination can be conducted at any time during a shift. But the rules in place now do not specify what information should be included or require mine operators to promptly notify miners when adverse conditions are found.“

Washington Post: Aaron Davis reports that the District of Columbia City Council has approved a measure to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15, and the city’s mayor is expected to sign it into law. Currently, D.C.’s minimum wage is $10.50; the new law would up that wage to $15 by 2020, after which increases would be automatic and tied to inflation. Tipped workers’ base rate would rise from $2.77 to $5, and employers would have to make up the difference if a worker’s tips don’t get him or her to the $15/hour mark. Davis writes: “But representatives of the Restaurant Opportunities Center said they were not ready to abandon the goal of a $15 minimum for restaurant workers. Kennard Ray, a spokesman for the group, said he was disappointed that D.C. lawmakers had ‘chosen again to leverage some low-wage workers against others’ to make a deal on minimum-wage law.”

New York Post: Emily Saul reports that a construction company owner is now facing manslaughter charges in the death of worker Vidal Sanchez Ramon, 50, who fell from the sixth floor of a commercial building site in Coney Island. Local building codes require that workers wear harnesses and that elevated working areas have protective rails — both of which were not the case at the building site where Ramon died. Saul reports: “A hardworking man died tragically and unnecessarily because proper safety measures were not taken to protect his life,” Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said in a statement. “As buildings go up all over Brooklyn, we owe it to every construction worker to make sure that they don’t lose their lives due to short cuts on safety.”

Gawker: The online media outlet published a first-person account of an Amazon worker in California who worked in a “cross dock” warehouse, which is devoted to preparing products for other vendors. (This is in contrast to an Amazon fulfillment center, where workers fulfill actual customer orders.) The anonymous worker writes about having to make “rate” — or unpacking and repacking a certain number of products per hour. At first, the worker writes, the rate was 85, but then it rose to 180. According to the article: “Rate was constant. Rate was on you all day. If you went to the bathroom, that lowered your Rate. If your boss came by to see how you were doing, that distraction lowered your Rate. If you ran out of bags and had to go get new ones yourself, that lowered your Rate. If you cut yourself on a box cutter or pinched a finger in the conveyor belt right next to you or something, and had to go to the on-site Amcare office (like a school nurse’s office, and equally as competent), well, you were still on Rate, and that lapse in work lowered your Rate.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.

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