May 19, 2009 The Pump Handle 3Comment

by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

You probably have never heard of the Chemical Safety Board (unless you are a specialist in that area — or you read The Pump Handle!). The CSB is an independent government agency that has a pretty low profile. Its mission, as its name implies, is to investigate industrial chemical accidents. The CSB is important enough, however, to have its Board members subject to Senate confirmation. CSB was authorized under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments but didn’t become operational until 1998. Thus it has lived most of its life obscured in the shadow of the Bush administration. Now things have changed. Under the Obama administration, there is renewed interest in serving in this agency.

There are two open slots on the CSB, and The Pump Handle has already highlighted a fine candidate for one of them, Mark Griffon. Now another terrific candidate has come forward, Dr.Anthony Robbins, one of the country’s most distinguished public health practitioners. Robbins’s resumé seems made to order for a slot on the CSB. In my view, he’d make a terrific Chair. When he was Director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) he fought many battles to protect workers and their communities. He is widely respected in public health circles, having led two state health departments (Vermont and Colorado), been an academic (Chair in Public Health at Tufts Medical School), served as editor-in-chief of two peer-reviewed public health journals (currently editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy) and is a past-President of the American Public Health Association (APHA). He’d be the first public health physician on the board.

Both Robbins and Griffon are superb candidates for a Board that deserves superb candidates. Robbins’s interest in the position of Chair suggests the tremendous potential the CSB has as the industrial accident analog to the National Transportation Safety Board, the high profile agency that investigates air and rail disasters. The CSB has had wonderful and dedicated members in the past, but the Obama era may finally allow the expanded scope and visibility it needs to investigate the root causes of industrial accidents that kill workers and endanger their communities.

An embarrassment of riches. I hope both make it onto the Board, and we want to give a special plug for Robbins as Chair.

3 thoughts on “A new era for investigating industrial accidents?

  1. Mark Griffon, a member of the Rocky Flats Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health who voted against the special “cohort status” to expedite the radiation exposure claims of former Rocky Flats worker is being promoted for a vacancy on the US Chemical Safety Board. Griffon was the Rocky Flats Workgroup Chairman and cast what could be seen as the deciding vote against the workers–the panel split 6 to 4.

    In reference to his vote, Griffon was quoted as stating “We had to balance timeliness vs. thoroughness. We had the petitioners and congressional representatives twice tell us to deliberate thoroughly, don’t rush the vote. I felt like it was my charge to dig into everything.” The attached article explains that 10% of the workers die before they are able to qualify for benefits. The Chemical Safety Board decides issues that can save lives too. Is he the best person for the job?

    Setback for Ill Workers at Nuclear Bomb Plant

    Published: June 13, 2007
    LAKEWOOD, Colo., June 12— A federal advisory panel recommended Tuesday that thousands of former workers at a nuclear weapons plant be denied immediate government compensation for illnesses that they say result from years ofradiation exposure there.

    The recommendation is a significant setback for a large number of people once employed as plutonium workers at the plant, Rocky Flats, 16 miles northwest of Denver. Their union, the United Steelworkers of America, had petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services to allow more than 3,000 of them to bypass a complex federal evaluation and compensation process established by Congress in 2000.

    In that time-consuming process, sick workers from Rocky Flats and other American nuclear facilities may apply for $150,000 in compensation, plus medical benefits, if there is evidence that they suffer from any of 22 kinds ofcancer linked to radiation. A worker must first file a claim with the Labor Department, a step that brings a lengthy investigation in which scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, through records, research and interviews, determine eligibility by establishing the radiation dose incurred by the worker. If the scientists are unable to determine the dose, the worker may file for “special exposure cohort” status.

    It was this status that was sought by the former Rocky Flats workers. But after more than two years of hearings and debate, the panel — the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — decided on a vote of 6 to 4 Tuesday that the occupational safety scientists could accurately determine dose exposure for almost all of the plant’s former workers.

    The board did recommend that a relatively small subset of the petitioning workers be allowed to receive the expedited benefits. These workers were exposed from 1959 to 1966, and the panel found that the occupational safety agency could not be expected to establish the dose for so early a period.

    The board’s recommendations now go to the Department of Health and Human Services, though it is unclear when the department will rule.

    “I’m stunned,” said Laura Schultz, a former plutonium worker who has suffered from cervical and kidney cancer. “We don’t have the money to keep fighting for this.”

    One panel member, Dr. James Melius, a physician, called the process “grossly unfair” and said the board had had little opportunity to review the accounts of the former workers, many of whom argued that the occupational safety agency’s records were incomplete and vastly understated their illnesses.

    But a member who voted with the majority, Mark Griffon, a consultant on radiation and hazardous waste, said he felt that the agency’s scientists had proved that they could accurately reconstruct the radiation dose level for most Rocky Flats workers.

    “At the end of the day,” Mr. Griffon said, “I do feel like we have data.”

    Rocky Flats opened in 1952 and ultimately produced more than 60,000 nuclear weapons parts. It was closed in 1989 after a raid by federal agents investigating accusations of environmental crimes on the part of its operator, Rockwell International, an Energy Department contractor. The plant was designated a Superfund hazardous waste site by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a cleanup took place from 1992 to 2005. It is now a wildlife sanctuary.

    In the absence of expedited benefits, a total of 2,682 Rocky Flats workers have filed claims over their illnesses, the steelworkers union says, with 807 approved and 617 denied. The rest, 1,258, are still pending.

    On Monday, more than 100 Rocky Flats workers and supporters attended a hearing of the advisory panel in this Denver suburb. Some of them — burly men with worn faces and white-haired women with slouched shoulders — told of suffering, and sometimes death, their plain-spoken narratives in sharp contrast to the data-driven discussions of board members.

    Judy Padilla, who worked as a sheet metal worker at Rocky Flats for 22 years and has since had a mastectomy, told the board: “We ask neither for sympathy nor charity. All we ask for is the truth.”

    Jennifer Thompson, a former Rocky Flats worker who is a spokeswoman for the petitioners, told the panel that it took an average of 742 days to process a successful claim. Sixty-seven workers have died waiting for their benefits to come through, Ms. Thompson said.

    Charlie Wolf, a former project engineer at the plant who now suffers from brain and bone marrow cancer, said he had waited more than four years before his claim was approved. “It’s hard for me to even read anymore,” said Mr. Wolf, whose bald head is creased by a nine-inch scar from brain surgery related to his cancer.

    Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and all the members of the state’s Congressional delegation sent letters asking the panel to support the petition. Representative Mark Udall testified on Monday that the compensation program’s red tape left workers in a “Kafkaesque nightmare.”

    Michelle Dobrovolny, 42, is one of 15 family members who worked at Rocky Flats. Four have died of cancer. Five others are sick, among them Ms. Dobrovolny herself, who has a brain tumor.

    “We’re the forgotten bunch,” she said.

    Board denies most Flats workers medical help

    Decision crushes former employees now ill with cancer

    Ann Imse And Laura Frank, Rocky Mountain News

    Published June 13, 2007 at midnight

    For sick Rocky Flats workers, a federal board’s rejection of their plea for aid Tuesday was an expected but nevertheless devastating loss.

    Former atomic bomb makers with cancer were crushed and tearful when the board denied the majority of them immediate medical care and compensation. They say they are dying because they put their lives on the line for America at the now-demolished nuclear weapons plant outside Denver.

    “How many more workers have to die?” asked Terry Bonds, district director for the United Steelworkers Union, which filed the petition.

    But the board did accept the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s assurance that it can estimate workers’ radiation contamination, well enough to prove – or disprove – that it caused their cancers. Workers say many exposures went unrecorded so managers could earn bonuses instead of fines. As a result, they say, the dose estimates are wrong.

    “It is an outrage that six of the advisory board members decided to believe the faulty, insufficient and incomplete data that NIOSH uncovered over workers’ experiences of what actually happened at that plant,” Bonds said.

    The plant 15 miles northwest of Denver made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. It opened in 1951 but was shut down in 1991 after a troubled history that included several fires.

    The FBI raided it in 1989, investigating claims that its operator had knowingly discharged chemicals into creeks that flowed into municipal water supplies, burned toxic waste and failed to adequately monitor groundwater.

    The company, Rockwell International, was fined $18.5 million.

    On Tuesday, former Rep. Bob Beauprez told the board it was violating congressional intent.

    “What do we want you to do on behalf of a grateful nation? We want you to take care of these people,” Beauprez said. “They earned it, they deserve it, they’ve got a right to it: Justice for all.”

    Wanda Munn, who voted with the 6-4 majority, said the board went into “painful detail” in rejecting the workers’ complaints.

    “Nothing was overlooked,” Munn said.

    Workers vow to appeal

    Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt will make the final decision, but he has never disagreed with the advisory board.

    Workers took the denial as a call to battle.

    They plan to appeal and seek an override from Congress. Democratic Rep. Mark Udall has sponsored such legislation, Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar is seeking hearings on the compensation program’s problems, and Republican Sen. Wayne Allard promised to be an “advocate.”

    Board Chairman Paul Ziemer said if lawmakers think the hearing process takes too long – a complaint the board hears “all over the country” – they should change the law.

    The board did recommend approval of automatic aid for one group of workers with 22 radiogenic cancers: “Workers who were monitored or should have been monitored for neutron dose from 1959 to 1966.” The board last month recommended approval for such workers from 1952 to 1958.

    However, there is no clear definition of who “should have been monitored” for this type of radiation. That set up another possible dispute for workers seeking help.

    The decision means most workers still must prove their individual exposure caused their cancers to qualify for medical care and $150,000 in compensation.

    “They’re going to waste more money calculating dose,” concluded former Rocky Flats worker Dennis Romero. “They could have eliminated all that, and just paid us.”

    So far, the government has paid 299 of the 1,253 former Rocky Flats workers with cancer who’ve requested help. It has denied 631. Many workers have been rejected repeatedly, as they appeal errors on their claims.

    Workers were frustrated by the debate, which focused on the details of NIOSH’s dose estimates instead of worker arguments.

    They were particularly angered by a NIOSH claim that workers received less contamination after a disastrous 1969 fire because they were sitting in the cafeteria, unable to work due to damage from the fire.

    “Hello!” exclaimed Jennifer Thompson, the workers’ spokeswoman. “The workers were cleaning up the fire, getting huge doses!”

    Jerry Harden said he and others worked for months cleaning up plutonium from the ashes, under extremely hazardous conditions, because the normal shielding had burned up.

    The fire investigation found that 7,000 pounds of plutonium was caught up in the blaze, which was stopped before a roof breach that could have covered Denver in radioactive ash.

    Missing radiation badges

    The board’s consultant, SC&A, reported that radiation badges from the fire era were thrown away.

    Brant Ulsh, NIOSH’s chief scientist for the Rocky Flats dose reconstruction, said his team dealt with missing records from radiation badges by using more accurate urinalysis records. He said missing doses were filled with estimates, often based on co-workers’ exposures. Ulsh said the estimates were based on high doses, not averages.

    Workers said the fact that officials were still undecided on how to calculate their doses 847 days after the filing of their petition proves the estimates are neither timely nor accurate.

    Thompson noted that NIOSH is still arguing about whether plutonium was used in Building 881 after the 847 days – when demolition records for that building show it had extensive plutonium contamination.

    NIOSH called the amount of plutonium in Building 881 “nuisance contamination.”

    But Thompson said demolition workers found plutonium all over that building and in its ductwork – so much that it was recovered for reuse. Such basic errors “draw into fundamental question NIOSH’s ability,” she said.

    NIOSH plans to redo its dose calculations for an unknown number of Rocky Flats workers because it changed its estimating procedures under pressure from the board.

    The revisions include some neutron doses, co-worker estimates and exposures for plutonium heated to high temperatures, both in the factory and in the fires. NIOSH officials said they could recalculate the doses within two months.

    Voting for the petition


    “There are gaps (in the records). I still work in the industry. I still know there are fallacies out there. . . . I really don’t feel it can be done.”


    “We have been less than timely (in our decision). . . . I think we have to give as much weight to the experience of people at the site as we do to the science.”


    “The board was presented with information from NIOSH that is incomplete and at the last minute. This process has taken 847 days. There’s something grossly unfair about that. This is not a fair process. I can’t claim individual dose reconstructions can be feasibly done with sufficient accuracy.”


    “There are large gaps in the data. I have a problem with that.”

    Voting against the petition


    “We had to balance timeliness vs. thoroughness. We had the petitioners and congressional representatives twice tell us to deliberate thoroughly, don’t rush the vote. I felt like it was my charge to dig into everything.”


    “It appears dose can be reconstructed.”


    “The only issue is whether adequate information exists for the reconstruction of dose to be done in a reasonable manner. We’ve heard no information whatsoever that it doesn’t.”


    “They’ve given reports and data that says they can do dose reconstruction.”


    “I have confidence that NIOSH did a very detailed evaluation and can reconstruct dose in the manner required by this rule.”


    “I’ve become completely certain that it’s feasible for NIOSH to do dose reconstructions with sufficient accuracy – and that means accuracy with claimant-favorable decisions.”

    Not Voting


    Poston was absent and did not vote.


    Beach was not allowed to vote because she recently worked for the union that filed the petition.

    What’s next

    • Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt has 30 days to act on the board’s recommendation.

    • If he denies its petition, the workers say they will appeal.

    • The secretary then would appoint a three- member board to advise him on the appeal.

    What they said . . .

    • “A nation great enough to figure out how to win the Cold War – not only on behalf of the United States, but also for the good of the entire planet – ought to be big enough, caring enough, compassionate enough to be able to take care of the Cold Warriors who won it for you.”

    Bob Beauprez

    former Colorado congressman

    • “This is heartbreaking for the people who are sick. The whole reason we did this is so they didn’t have to keep going through this grueling process.”

    Jennifer Thompson

    worker petition author

    • “It was never the intent of Congress to make life more difficult for these people.”

    Jerry Harden, former worker

    • “Unfortunately, the burden passed to this group is to correct what Congress should have done in the first place.”

    Paul Ziemer, board chairman

    What’s next

    • Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt has 30 days to act on the board’s recommendation.

    • If he denies its petition, the workers say they will appeal.

    • The secretary then would appoint a three-member board to advise him on the appeal.

    Rocky Flats workers die waiting for help
    10% of ex-nuclear employees OK’d for help dead before feds pay up
    Laura Frank and Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News
    Published June 4, 2007 at midnight

    Hundreds of Rocky Flats nuclear weapons workers have qualified for compensation because their jobs made them ill, but one in 10 died before the government paid their claims, theRocky Mountain News has found.

    Out of 674 workers granted compensation, 67 died while waiting.

    Thousands more Rocky Flats workers have cancer and other ailments. They say they do not want to die fighting for help that Congress promised Cold War veterans seven years ago.

    “We knew people were dying before they could be compensated, but we had no idea it was this many. It’s unconscionable,” said Terrie Barrie, of Craig, who helped organize the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups to help ill workers like her husband, George, a former Rocky Flats machinist.

    For more than two years, the workers have been trying to persuade a presidential advisory board to let those with certain cancers take a streamlined path to compensation, which amounts to $150,000 per person plus medical expenses.

    The board is expected to make a recommendation on their petition on June 12 in Denver, but comments at a May 3 meeting indicate that the board is poised to deny most ill workers this chance.

    Instead, they likely will be told to continue applying for help through a system that takes an average of more than two years to determine whether their work might have caused their illnesses. It’s a system that constantly evolves as researchers discover new methods, often so slowly that people die before their cases are resolved.

    The bottom line: The science is not keeping up with the suffering.

    Different outcomes

    The parallel stories of Don Gabel and Charlie Wolf show why many are frustrated with the government’s system of determining eligibility for compensation.

    Both worked at Rocky Flats. Both spent time in some of the same contaminated areas. Both were diagnosed in the prime of their lives with the same kind of rare and fatal brain cancer.

    Both of their cases were submitted to the federal compensation program. Both were denied. Both were resubmitted with more information. Both were denied again.

    The state of Colorado said Gabel’s brain cancer was linked to Rocky Flats when it awarded his family a rare worker’s compensation settlement after he died in 1980. But in 2004, Gabel’s widow gave up on getting similar recognition from the federal government.

    Meanwhile, Wolf, who defied the odds with his ongoing survival, continued to fight for compensation. In January, after four years, part of his request was granted.

    What changed? The science.

    Program administrators told Gabel’s widow in 2004 that nothing at Rocky Flats could be linked to her husband’s brain cancer. But a new study in 2006 linked brain cancer to chemicals like those found at Rocky Flats. The study was evidence enough to approve part of Wolf’s claim.

    Scientists have studied radiation and its effects on nuclear weapons workers since late 1942.

    But after half a century of scientific study, researchers still had not agreed on whether workers’ health complaints were related to radiation and toxic exposures. That was partly because of the careful, conservative scientific process.

    But documents dating back to the 1940s show that the federal government also was pushing to make sure health concerns did not slow down nuclear weapons production.

    Congress didn’t approve the program to compensate ill workers until 2000, when then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson pushed the scientific data into lawmakers’ hands.

    Ill workers and their advocates say the new program has fallen into the same old cycle of waiting for new science that might link the poisons and radiation at nuclear weapons sites to individual workers’ illnesses.

    Lawmakers say that’s not what Congress intended. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program in 2000 said the compensation process should be “efficient” and workers should get every benefit of the doubt.

    “This has turned into a scientific study they’re doing,” said Barrie, whose husband, George, is ill. “Meanwhile, people are dying.”

    Government scientists have developed so much new science for this program that later this year they will fill an entire special edition of a scientific journal with what they’ve learned.

    “We’re very proud of the science we are bringing forward in this program,” said Larry Elliott, who directs program work for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “We feel strongly we’ve advanced the science.”

    But what good are better scientific methods if the workers are dead and their survivors are giving up, asks worker advocate Jennifer Thompson, who wrote the Rocky Flats petition for help.

    “In the end, that’s a good thing to have made scientific discoveries and improved their models and do things in a better way than they had been,” Thompson said. “But meanwhile, workers have been dying.”

    A matter of time

    Some question whether the science is advanced enough to fulfill the intent of the compensation program.

    The government’s system, called dose reconstruction, is “basically a giant slot machine,” said Joseph Batuello, a physician who also is a lawyer and an aerospace engineer. He tried to navigate the compensation program to help Gabel’s widow.

    “The bottom line is the program is too ambitious for the science,” Batuello said.

    Batuello said he was shocked when he began to peel back the layers of jargon in the documents sent to Gabel’s widow from NIOSH and the U.S. Department of Labor.

    “They’ve taken a whole bunch of scientific leaps,” Batuello said. “I don’t think somebody is doing this maliciously. When they tried to do what they were asked to do, the science just wasn’t there.”

    Batuello and others have pinpointed these problems with the program:

    • Scientists have had to make so many assumptions and take so many shortcuts in reconstructing estimated radiation exposures that the result may be no more valid than just assuming that certain cancers are work-related.

    • The computer program that calculates the likelihood that a cancer is work-related uses outdated data from Japanese atomic bomb survivors. That data might not be comparable to exposures for American bomb builders, who faced chronic exposure over years rather than from a single blast. And something as simple as entering the data in a different order into the computer model can give different answers. Scientists say they’ve accounted for the problem in how they calculate the results, but others remain skeptical.

    • The process doesn’t consider each person’s genetic makeup, which makes some people more susceptible to certain exposures. NIOSH officials, however, say their risk models should cover the range of genetic susceptibility.

    • The process doesn’t consider the combined effects of exposure to radiation plus chemicals and other toxic substances. Most workers don’t have records on their chemical exposures. Even if they did, the science on combined exposures is in its infancy.

    When the compensation plan was being formulated, a federal study coordinated by the White House in 1999 said risk to workers’ health from chemicals “may exceed those posed by radionuclides.”

    The report by the National Economic Council said a lack of information about exposures to multiple chemicals and other toxic substances made risk assessment “nearly impossible.”

    But NIOSH officials said there is no firm evidence to show that combining radiation and chemicals makes either more potent at causing cancer.

    NIOSH officials noted that Congress could have assumed certain cancers were work-related but chose instead to require dose reconstruction. NIOSH officials acknowledge that the process includes many assumptions but said they tend to overestimate the chance that radiation caused a worker’s cancer.

    So the scientists march on, retrieving old radiation exposure records – some of which had to be dug up and decontaminated – and calculating risk. The law requires the scientists to look for ways to document the exposures. But the law is not clear on what is considered timely.

    Rocky Flats workers say the 839 days they’ve waited for a ruling on their petition – nearly twice as long as any other site – clearly goes beyond any definition of efficient or timely.

    “It’s like the Pied Piper,” said William J. Brady, Charlie Wolf’s attorney. “The advisory board has bought into the idea that science can eventually answer all these questions. They just keep waiting for new answers. They’ve forgotten the whole issue of timeliness.”

    Congress predicted this problem seven years ago.

    One of the lawmakers who helped write the program legislation was New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman. On Sept. 22, 2000, he worried aloud from the Senate floor:

    “It might take so long to reconstruct a dose for a group of workers that they will all be dead before we have an answer that can be used to determine their eligibility.”

    Workers who died before claims paid

    The Rocky Mountain News asked the U.S. Department of Labor for data on claims paid to ill Rocky Flats workers and their survivors. The data show that 67 ill workers – or one in 10 of those approved for compensation – died before getting paid. More than 22,000 people worked at Rocky Flats in the 50 years it produced plutonium triggers for atomic bombs.

    • In cases where the worker’s illness was linked to radiation, beryllium or silica:

    46 workers died before claims were paid.

    Their survivors were paid $6.9 million.

    279 workers received compensation totaling $41.7 million.

    159 workers were dead when survivors filed claims. They were paid $23.7 million.

    • In cases where the worker’s illness was linked to chemicals or other toxic exposures:

    21 workers died before claims were paid. Their survivors were paid $2.6 million.

    16 workers received compensation totaling $1.5 million.

    153 workers were dead when survivors filed claims. They received

    $19.2 million.

    • TOTAL CLAIMS: $95.7 million to 674 peopleSource: U.S. Department Of Labor

    What’s next

    • What: A presidential advisory board meets to decide whether to recommend that Rocky Flats workers receive streamlined financial and medical help.

    • When: June 11-12. The public will be allowed to address the board at 5:30 p.m. June 11. The board’s vote is expected June 12.

    • Where: Sheraton Denver West Hotel, 360 Union Blvd., Lakewood or 303-954-5091 imsea@RockyMountain or 303-954-5438

  2. You may want to look into why more people are being exposed by the lies they are being told/sold that Libby Mt is safe. This is a deadly lie.

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