Target: Rick Perry, Secretary, Department of Energy
Goal: Ensure nuclear plant workers sickened with fatal diseases are covered by workers’ compensation.
The Hanford Nuclear Plant in Washington State was a primary producer of plutonium for over 40 years, from its commission in the 1940s through 1989. Since its decommission, the Department of Energy has directed clean-up and disposal of dangerous substances created through decades of operation. Current and former workers are currently suffering from serious chronic illnesses because of contact with toxic vapors emitted by nuclear waste.
Plant employees have been stricken with diseases including beryllium poisoning, dementia, cardio-pulmonary disease and several forms of cancer. In many cases, medical and workers’ compensation claims filed by employees were denied by the Department of Energy, citing inconclusive evidence that the health impacts were work-related. The extraordinary cost of treating complex illnesses has forced workers to sell property, liquidate retirement funds and declare bankruptcy.
An unusual arrangement between the Department of Energy and Washington State allows workers compensation claims to be reviewed and administered at the federal level rather than state level. The federal government in turn sub-contracted the responsibility of reviewing worker compensation to a private company called Penser North America. The contract agreement included bonuses for keeping worker compensation payouts under a certain threshold, which fueled a culture of antagonism between Penser and Hanford employees. This was confirmed through a three-year investigation by a local news station, which found Penser underreported workplace accidents, related medical issues, and pressured medical personnel to cast doubt on nuclear waste as a contributing factor to reported injury/illness on claim documentation. The federal government has since indicated it would not renew its contract with Penser North America.
Lawmakers in Washington State are attempting to aid Hanford workers through the drafting of legislation which would “establish the presumption of an occupational cause” for certain illnesses. The Department of Energy should reinforce those efforts by relinquishing authority over workers’ compensation administration back to the state so they may be reassessed under the updated state law. Please sign the below petition with this demand for Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Dear Secretary Perry,
The Department of Energy has denied compensation claims from dozens of workers sickened through handling nuclear waste at Hanford Nuclear Plant in Washington State. These individuals are suffering from illnesses such as beryllium poisoning, dementia and cancer. Denial of their medical and workers’ compensation claims has pushed many current and former employees into bankruptcy.
An investigation found that the company formerly contracted by the Department of Energy to oversee administration of workers’ compensation underreported workplace accidents, medical issues and pressured medical personnel to downplay nuclear waste as a contributing factor on claim documentation. Please consider restoring Department of Energy authority over workers’ compensation administration back to Washington State.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Tobin Fricke