Miners: We’re still getting the shaft
Gallup Independent - Gallup,NM,USASeptember 19, 2007 By Kathy HelmsStaff writer
MILAN — When Congress enacted the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990 and amended it in 2000, it failed to include workers employed after 1971 who were exposed to radiation from activities related to uranium mining.
Further expansion of RECA in November 2002 also disregarded Post-71 miners. But as of Aug. 1, the legislation is back on the table, and this time, if a group of radiation victims in Grants and Milan have anything to do with it, the federal government will no longer be able to exclude them with the stroke of a pen.
Linda Evers of Milan, a Post-71 uranium miller who formerly worked for Kerr-McGee, has been designated as spokeswoman for the Post-71 Uranium Exposure Committee when the group travels to Washington in November with members of the Navajo Nation to lobby for changes in RECA.
“I worked in the crusher department and at 32 was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease that can only be connected to overexposure to radiation,” Evers said. She was living in Kansas at the time.
“My orthopedic surgeon said there are only three things that cause this kind of destruction on bones. He said, ‘age,’ which was not a factor, I was 32; ‘family history’ — I have a 96-year-old grandmother that barely has arthritis, let alone anything degenerative; or ‘overexposure to radiation.’
“I used to work in the crusher, right out of high school at 18, and worked in the field until I was 24, and then went on and did something else because they shut everything down here. I worked for Kerr-McGee. We had showers, but we didn’t have hot water. After you stand in a freezing crusher all night, the last thing you want is a frozen shower — if there was any water at all,” Evers said.
“Our safety meetings consisted of CPR, burns, cuts, general first-aid. We never had any on radiation exposure.”
Evers started out on the labor gang, spending her first 90 days working all over the mill.
“I worked in yellowcake, I worked in the acid plant, I worked in a lot of places on the labor gang, but then when my 90 days there were up, they put me in the crusher.
“My partner that was working in the crusher with me, I guess he was eight or nine years older than me and was just out of the service. Now, he has just a plethora of health problems. The medical bills are chewing him up and spitting him out because we don’t have any compensation, and general insurance and Medicare do not cover this stuff,” she said.
In 2004, professors at Utah State University published a report in the Journal of Health & Social Policy entitled “Unfinished Business: Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) for Post-1971 U.S. Uranium Underground Miners.”
The report examined the regulatory history and scientific evidence used for the passage of RECA and presented evidence supporting the inclusion of Post-71 miners.
In October 2005 at a presentation on the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act in Grants, former Kerr-McGee mine workers Antonio Sena and Margarito Martinez presented a copy of the report to representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice.
“These are real finds by the people that were handling the RECA program back in Washington. They were supposed to release this to the public, and apparently it was not done. It was blocked by the federal government,” Sena said.
The report questioned why company exposure records were significantly lower than federal records. It also stated that the RECA legislation date of eligibility was based entirely on the federal government’s uranium procurement program, rather than on scientific evidence of the relationship between exposures and health outcomes.
Gary E. Madsen, PhD, and Susan E. Dawson, PhD, authors of the report, argued that the federal government should include Post-71 miners in RECA since it did not develop ore stringent standards as suggested by its own health and safety agencies.
“To exclude the post-1971 workers based on the procurement date is untenable,” they said.
Sena said the Mine Enforcement and Safety Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration, and various other groups did a lot of research in the mines and mills. “They turned the report in to the federal government but it was never printed,” he said.
Evers said she has been fighting to get compensation for a Post-71 miner who was diagnosed with sinus cancer. “He has had most of his face removed. They won’t compensate him because the government, in its infinite wisdom, has determined that the sinuses are not part of the respiratory system. But every medical doctor in the country says, ‘Are you nuts?’
“It’s stupid! And the more we learn, the more stupid it gets. How can you not acknowledge that sinus cancer is a respiratory problem? My heart just goes out to him.”
Even if the victim and his family received the $100,000 RECA compensation allocated for uranium workers, right now, Evers said, “they still wouldn’t see any of it because they owe it all to the medical bills. They’re old folks. They pay their bills before they treat themselves right.”
The companies could have solved the problem, Evers said, “by issuing radon-qualified respirators to all of us. I know that they’re kind of expensive and you have to change the filters every day. But that still seems like it would have been cheaper, to me, than paying $125,000 to $200,000 per person