Why won't DOL Talk with ANWAG?
Oh, my. It looks like we are heading back to the bad old days.
In 2009 Terrie Barrie of ANWAG called for a meeting between the advocates, Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Energy (DOE), and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The meeting was held in Washington DC on January 21, 2010. DOE was represented by nine employees including Glenn Podonsky, the Director DOE Health, Safety and Security. NIOSH was represented by NIOSH Director John Howard and DCAS director Stu Hinnefeld. Seven members of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health attended. NIOSH Ombudsman, Denise Brock and DOL Ombudsman, Malcolm Nelson attended. Five advocates traveled to DC at their own expense to attend.
DOL decided not to attend because they did not feel that it was worth their while to walk a few blocks to discuss EEOICPA problems with the advocates.
The meeting was very successful, even without DOL attendance. Questions were asked and answered on both sides and ideas were bounced around on how to make the program more efficient and effective.
In March 2011 ANWAG reached out again to try to set up a meeting with DOL. No response. In July ANWAG tried again. Again, no response. Another try in August gave the same results. It was apparent that DOL still did not want to meet with the advocates.
Then Freddie Krueger entered the picture.
In May 2010 I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request for the training materials DOL used to train their employees. In August 2011 DOL provided copies of their training manuals. While reviewing the material I saw that DOL was referring to claimants and their doctors with the names of horror movie characters. A claimant in the manual was referred to as Freddie Krueger. Doctors of sick workers were called names like Hannibal Lecter. Obviously, the advocates, some of whom who either were sick workers, caring for sick family members, or had lost family members to the illnesses covered by EEIOICPA found this unacceptable. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and made national and international news.
Suddenly on September 29, two days after the article was published, announced that they WOULD like to meet with the advocates. This meeting was held in DC on October 11th and was the beginning of DOL (after apologizing for their misstep) being willing to work with the advocates.
Following this the advocates met yearly with the three agencies to discuss and find solutions to problems within the program.
It became apparent that while these meetings were useful, a more formal process would be more beneficial. The advocates began pushing for a DOL advisory board similar to the one that oversees NIOSH. And the advocates were not the only group which felt DOL needed more oversight. The Government Accountability Office recommended it in their 2010 report, Additional Independent Oversight and Transparency Would Improve Program's Credibility as did the Institute of Medicine in their 2013 Review of the Department of Labor Site Exposure Matrix Database. DOL resisted all attempts at oversight and so no board was established.
In 2014, the advocates established the DEEOIC Interim Advisory Board to provide oversight of DOL until a formal Advisory Board was established by Congress. DIAB was an active shadow board, holding meetings around the country and publishing reports on EEOICPA problems. Congress listened and in 2015 the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Workers Health (ABTSWH) was established. ADBTSWH hit the ground running at their first meeting in April 2016. These highly qualified and nationally (and internationally) respected members board members began giving DOL the kind of advice they needed and they backed up what they said with science and research.
Last month this remarkable board ceased functioning when the terms of the current members ended. Most of the board was willing to do another term but the board fell off a cliff into an administrative abyss. (And for the record, EECAP, ANWAG, and other stakeholder groups have endorsed all the sitting board members who want to continue.) I can not imagine how a more qualified and efficient board could exist. The claimants need these folks to continue.
So, as Ms. Barrie, for ANWAG, has had to do so many times in the past, she reached out to the OWCP director Julia Hearthway, as well as deputy director Gary Steinberg to set up a phone meeting to discuss why the board is so important and to learn why the board has ceased to function. Sick workers and advocates around the country have always counted on ANWAG to get answers for them. This time despite reaching out multiple times, ANWAG was rebuffed and told that despite the many years of being able to talk to DOL it is not appropriate for DOL to discuss the claimant and advocates concerns with ANWAG.
And so we have come full circle. DOL again does not have time to listen to the advocates and claimants.
Last time it took a major gaff and international news story to get them to come to the table. I am not sure what it will take this time. Freddie Krueger is still out there reminding us of DEEOIC history with the program. If you put my name into Google images one of the images that comes up is still Freddy Krueger! (Lovely, right?) I really hope that DOL will reconsider and decide to meet with ANWAG representatives. Otherwise, they may find another scandal on their hands.
Congress Proposes Putting DOE in Charge of Low-Dose Radiation Studies--What Could Go Wrong???
Actually, it is a terrible idea which was tried in the past with devastating results to the workers.
1. What agency ran/runs the national laboratories where workers were/are exposed to radiation?
o Department of Energy
2. What agency must meet budgetary constraints to run the national laboratories?
o Department of Energy
3. What agency did Congress find, "Since the inception of the nuclear weapons program and for several decades afterwards, a large number of nuclear weapons workers at sites of the Department of Energy and at sites of vendors who supplied the Cold War effort were put at risk without their knowledge and consent for reasons that, documents reveal, were driven by fears of adverse publicity, liability, and employee demands for hazardous duty pay".
o Department of Energy
So now Congress thinks that putting the agency responsible for contaminating the workers should be in charge of deciding what the limits of safe radiation are? Even today when politicians have problems recognizing conflicts of interest, as well as facts, this idea is patently ridiculous. Plus it was already tried--and failed spectacularly.
In 1964 Dr. Thomas Mancuso was given a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), an earlier itineration of the DOE, to study the health and mortality of workers from the US nuclear weapons plants. At the time, Dr. Mancuso was well respected as one of the leading researchers in the US. Dr. Alice M. Stewart and Dr. George W. Kneale worked with him. The study was known as the Health and Mortality Study and the results are still used today. The data are available at DOE Comprehensive Epidemiologic Data Resource.
The AEC motives for funding this study were not pure. According to a November 8, 1967 letter from B. MacMahon to Leonard Sagan at the AEC, "much of the motivation for starting this study arose from the 'political' need for assurance that AEC employees are not suffering harmful effects." In other words, AEC wanted to prove that radiation was not harming the workers and expected the study to show this.
In 1973 the AEC officer overseeing the Mancuso studies wrote "unless an immediate replacement (for Mancuso) is found, a public charge
may be made that the AEC is stopping the program out of fear that positive
findings will emerge". When this person
left the AEC, he took over the study for AEC contractor Battelle at Pacific
Northwest Laboratories. So the man who
later took over the studies wanted Mancuso gone because it was looking like
Mancuso was finding evidence that radiation from the labs was harming the
workers. I wonder what his conclusions were?
In 1977 the AEC terminated the contract of Dr. Mancuso because he would not back the AEC position that the radiation was NOT harming the workers. Instead Mancuso stood by the results of excess cancer deaths among Hanford workers that his studies and studies by Washington State Department of Social and Health Service had found. AEC wanted to stop his study because he was finding the opposite results that they wanted him to find and he would not lie and agree with their desired conclusions.
Also in 1977 Mancuso, Stewart and Kneale published their study, Study of the lifetime health and mortality experience of employees of ERDA contractors. (ERDA was the name of the agency between AEC and DOE.) This study showed a definite relationship between low level ionizing radiation and the development of cancer.
The DOE was not amused. They launched an all-out attack on the research because they did not like what the study had uncovered--that workers WERE being harmed by the work in the nuclear weapons industry.
In 1980 the Federal Interagency Task Force on Ionizing Radiation found that DOE had a "virtual monopoly on federal radiation health effects as well as a potential conflict of interest" since they were doing nuclear weapons work and supposed to be protecting the workers' health. After this report, Joseph Califano, Secretary of Department of Health, Education and Welfare recommended that DOE not be allowed to do any further research into radiation health effects research.
This did not stop DOE from trying to combat the findings that working in the nuclear weapons industry was dangerous and discredit the work Mancuso, Stewart and Kneale had done.
DOE continued to misinterpret data about the harm being done to workers.
In 1982 DOE misinterpreted a Rocky Flats study to hide an excessive death rate caused by brain tumors.
In 1983 DOE tried to hide that Savannah River workers had a higher than normal rate of leukemia.
In 1984, in contradiction to the evidence, Oak Ridge claimed that health studies showed it was safer to work at the plant than to stay home, although the studies showed the opposite was true.
My father was one of the many workers who died due to his work on the national nuclear weapons program so I take the threat of harming these workers personally. I have long felt that when you give an agency the responsibility of producing something within a certain budget AND protecting the workers the workers will always be the ones to suffer. I am in horror of Congress allowing this history to repeat itself. The foxes need to be kept far away from this particular henhouse. Any studies done need to be done by independent agencies.
I used two main documents for the above facts. Both these are worth reading by anyone considering allowing DOE to do low-dose radiation research.
The Risks of Making Nuclear Weapons by Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies
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