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Government seeking nuclear workers who had radiation-caused cancers or their survivors

August 12, 2018
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The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear lawsuits that claim Apollo area residents suffered from cancer caused by radiation from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. The NUMEC plant, seen in this photo circa 1961, made nuclear batteries known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The plant, which was located just off of the Apollo Bridge, was razed decades later.

A federal program that has paid out more than $60 million to former Apollo area nuclear workers for radiation-related illnesses is looking for more former nuclear workers throughout the region who might be eligible for compensation.

The U.S. Department of Labor will hold an information meeting for former workers in the nuclear materials industry or their survivors on Aug. 22 from 9 a.m. noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Quality Inn in New Kensington.

There are about 14 work sites eligible in Southwestern Pennsylvania, including some steel mills and nuclear fuel processing plants.

Among them are the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) in Apollo and Parks Township, Westinghouse Atomic Power Development Plant in East Pittsburgh, Westinghouse Nuclear Fuels Division in Cheswick, and Aluminum Co. of America -- Alcoa -- in New Kensington.

The benefits proved helpful to deceased workers’ families to shore up medical expenses and the financial losses.

But it still doesn’t make up for the loss of a loved one.

“It just seems trivial -- $150,000 for someone’s life, but it did help my mom out,” said Shellie Robertson, 57, Washington Township, whose father, John Grazetti, died in 2015 at the age of 74 from acute myeloid leukemia.

Grazetti, of Washington Township, was a NUMEC worker as was his father, John Grazetti Sr., who died of colon cancer and a brother who has recently been diagnosed with rectal cancer, according to Robertson.

All three men had cancers associated with exposures to radioactive substances encountered at work, and the compensation claims to the Labor Department by the three men have been accepted.

“My dad said he would probably die of cancer,” Robertson said. “He knew.”

Grazetti, who worked at NUMEC for about 20 years, didn’t talk much about his job, according to his daughter.

All the family knew what that he was foreman and worked with chemicals. However, Robertson did recall her father having to submit urine samples for the company to test for what is now known as radiation over-exposures.

Near the end of his life, Robertson started to hear NUMEC stories when her dad and uncle would talk.

“They would have to clean up stuff, spray down the walls. I remember the soles of my father’s shoes being eaten away from the stuff he was walking in.”

Paid out so far: $15 billion

To date, the program has paid more than $129.3 million in compensation and medical benefits to 1,138 claimants living in Pennsylvania and more than $15.2 billion nationwide, according to the Labor Department.

The government established the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to pay sick nuclear workers a lump sum of $150,000 and coverage of related medical expenses.

The program pays people who became ill because of working for a private business subcontracted by the federal government to develop and produce components for nuclear weapons.

Generally, eligible workers must have worked a certain amount of time and developed one of 22 cancers designated by the program and or other illnesses. The benefit also is payable to families of deceased workers.

The Labor Department has visited the area before and is visiting again because there still might be workers or their families still eligible for the benefit.

In Pennsylvania, most of the nuclear workers covered by the program were employed in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s difficult to say how many more workers could be eligible for the program, but they could number in the hundreds, according to estimates provided by an EEOICPA program official several years ago.

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