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Talk to Terrie: Meet Dr. Robert E. Rothe

July 11, 2019

July 11, 2019

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By: Terrie Barrie

Many former workers have come forward to share their experiences at a site with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health during the petition process to designate a site as a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC).  The Rocky Flats site was very fortunate in this regard for both SEC petitions.  I am very thankful for that. Many people provided testimony before the board and volunteered to be interviewed by NIOSH.  They also shared their knowledge of the more technical aspects of a nuclear weapons facility which was invaluable to the petitioners.

One such person was Dr. Robert E. Rothe.  He was one of three senior experimenters at the Rocky Flats Critical Mass Laboratory, Building 886. He authored the report, A Technically Useful History of the Critical Mass Laboratory at Rocky Flats, published by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Through an introduction by Dr. Rothe’s authorized representative, I had the honor of having many conversations with Dr. Rothe.  He came forward in 2015 with the intent and hope that he could convince NIOSH that it would be impossible to reconstruct dose from the over 1600 controlled criticality experiments conducted at Rocky Flats.

Over the years I have picked up a modest understanding of radiation.  Up until the publication of his report, I had no idea Rocky Flats had reactors which were involved with criticality experiments.   It’s fascinating to listen to Dr. Rothe recount his time at Rocky Flats.  He was able to describe some of the processes used in the experiments in layman’s terms to me.  But not only that, he followed it up with an email to me so that I could study it further.

Dr. Rothe even took the time to speak directly to the board’s Work Group on Rocky Flats explaining why, in his opinion, that NIOSH’s approach to dose reconstruction for these experiments was inaccurate.  I can only imagine how frustrated he was when his arguments were rejected.

However, this disappointment has not stopped him in his pursuit for justice for himself and other claimants.  He recently contacted his Congressman, Joe Neguse (D-CO) to initiate a full investigation into the program.

In an email, Dr. Rothe stated, “The DOL, today, is not managing the EEOICPA of 2000 anywhere near the way it was intended to be handled by the Congress that passed the legislation.  They appear intent on denying coverage instead of helping clients obtain compensation.”

He has submitted comments to the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health about the insufficient data in the Department of Labor’s Site Exposure Matrix related to Rocky Flats Building 886.  He is also objecting to DOL’s new policy reducing the time a case manager can spend coordinating services for an approved claimant.

I want to thank Dr. Rothe for his help during the SEC petition process and for his continued advocacy for his coworkers and other claimants.