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Advisory Board to NIOSH Holds Virtual Meeting, Votes on SRS SEC Petition

April 20, 2021

April 20, 2021

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Industry News

The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health held a virtual meeting on April 14-15, 2021.

The highly anticipated item on the agenda was the discussion on whether the petition for the subcontract constructions workers at the Savannah River Site (SRS) should be included in Special Exposure Cohort (SEC). The proposed class is from October 1, 1972 through December 31, 1990. The debate on whether the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can reconstruct dose with sufficient accuracy for this class of workers has been deliberated for well over ten years.  The Board came close to a vote during the December 2020 meeting but they ran out of time.

NIOSH’s position is that they can reconstruct dose using only the monitoring records from the 886 claims that have been filed with the Department of Labor (DOL).  The Board’s technical contractor, Sanford Cohen and Associates (SC&A), disagrees that this method is sufficiently accurate to reconstruct dose.  Some Board members were disappointed that NIOSH and SC&A could not come to a consensus.

There was a concern raised by the legal counsel about the proposed language and whether DOL could process the claims efficiently.  It was implied that the language be correct before the Board voted.

Another concern was that the Board’s Work Group (WG) did not identify how the class’ health was endangered. Dr. Knut Ringen of the Center for Construction Research and Training, mentioned during his public comments that the organization has published studies which show elevated deaths among construction workers who were employed at Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities.

The Board’s Work Group Chair said any changes to the language or identifying the health endangerment would be moot if the Board voted not to include the class in the SEC.

A letter from Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) was read into the record.  He reminded the Board that this petition has been discussed for over ten years and that the original petitioner, that the petitioner’s representative have passed away, and that it is time for the Board to make a decision.

The current petitioner’s representatives echoed this sentiment and reminded the Board of the evidence that was provided, including a document about falsification of records.

After hours of discussion, the Board voted, 8 to 3, to recommend to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to include this class as a member of the SEC.

The next step is that the Board will finalize the letter and submit it to the Secretary.  The Secretary will have 30 days after receiving the Board’s letter to accept or reject the recommendation.  The Secretary will then send it to Congress and that body will have 30 days to accept or reject the recommendation.

DOL will notify the claimants and the public when they begin processing claims.

Other petitions that are before the Board for consideration are:

  • Area IV of Santa Susana Field Lab
  • Argonne National Lab West
  • De Soto Avenue Facility
  • Hanford
  • Idaho National Lab
  • Lawrence Livermore Lab
  • Los Alamos Lab
  • Metals and Control
  • Pinellas Plant
  • Reduction Pilot Plant
  • Sandia National Lab
  • Y-12

NIOSH hopes to have reports to the Board on Pinellas and Y-12 submitted to the Board this summer.  The report on Hanford isn’t expected until late 2022.

Grady Calhoun gave the NIOSH update.  Despite multiple retirements NIOSH has replaced all staff but one health physicist who will be hired soon.

Frank Crawford gave the DOL update.  As of April 4, 2021 claimants have been paid 19,300, 000 in compensation and medical bills.

Greg Lewis gave the DOE update.  Due to Covid-19 DOE has not been able to access most records held at Federal Records Centers.  There have been no data captures or classification reviews for the same reason.

The subcommittee on Procedures Review Finalization and Approval Process reported on their progress.  There are currently 35 active technical guidance documents that have been reviewed by Sanford Cohen and Associates (SCA) which the Board needs to review.  The Board discussed the format in which they will review the documents.

The subcommittee on Dose Reconstruction Reviews presented their update.  They have reviewed 44 cases as of February 25, 2021 and found that the probability of causation (PoC) calculated by NIOSH and SCA was close in most cases.  There was one case with a larger variation which seemed to be due to NIOSH and SCA making different assumptions about the employment location, but both PoCs were below 50% so either way the case would not have been compensated.

During the Board’s Work session it was decided that a full board meeting would be held by teleconference on June 23, 2021.  The next full board meeting for August 18-19, 2021 and this meeting will again be a virtual meeting as agency travel restrictions are in force until the end of September 2021.  There will also be a planning teleconference on October 20, 2021.  It is possible the December 8-9, 2021 full board meeting will be an in-person meeting.  The different working groups reported on their progress.

There were 4 speakers for the public comment period.  Two recommended strongly that the Savannah River Site (SRS) SEC be approved and one advocate called on behalf of the Pinellas Plant SEC.

Dr. Dan McKeel, co-petitioner for the Dow Madison, Granite City, and Texas City Chemical sites, public comments were read into the record.  These comments could affect the SEC status for Rocky Flats.  He found new evidence concerning the use of magnesium/thorium alloy.  The Work Group Chairs for the Rocky Flats Plant and for the Dow Madison site agreed to look at it and asked that NIOSH review the new evident.