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Oak Ridge National Laboratory SEC Statuses

October 1, 2012

October 1, 2012

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News & Events recently released an update on ORNL Special Exposure Cohort Status. Please click here for original text.

The federal Advisory Board on Radiation and Workers Health, meeting today in Denver, Colo., agreed that early employees at Oak Ridge National Laboratory deserve a special status that makes it easier for them to collect from a federal compensation program for sick nuclear workers.

Board members unanimously approved a recommendation to create a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) that includes anyone who worked at ORNL for at least 250 days between June 17, 1943 and July 31, 1955. The designation makes it much easier for sick workers or their surviving family members to collect $150,000 from the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which was established to help those made sick working on nuclear weapons during World War II and the Cold War. Being part of an SEC means that if a worker suffers one of the 22 types cancers on the approved list it is automatically assumed that the cancer was caused by the radiation workplace. The claimants don’t have to go through “dose reconstruction” to prove their radiation exposures were sufficiently high to have caused the illness.

The board’s approval was based on the evaluation report and recommendation by staff of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The U.S. secretary for health and human services and Congress also must approve the designation, but those are considered almost a formality once the NIOSH and advisory board reviews have been completed.

Many former ORNL workers and their families have been upset for years because they felt like they weren’t getting a fair shake in the compensation program because other sites — including Y-12 and K-25 in Oak Ridge — has SECs that made it easier for workers to be compensated for workplace-related cancers.

Dr. Timothy Taulbee, a research health scientist, presented NIOSH’s evaluation of the early ORNL workplace today and made it clear there were radiation hazards that could not be fully documented with the available records. In some cases, air sampling or dose records were not complete, and in other cases those records simply could not be found, Taulbee said.

ORNL, which was known as Clinton Laboratories or X-10 during the World War II Manhattan Project and the years that immediately followed, had a watime responsibility to produce plutonium on a pilot basis using the Graphite Reactor and associated extraction and purification facilities. It also produced a number of other radioactive materials during the 1940s and early 1950s for research and medical applications, and some radiation exposures were better tracked than others.