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Labor Department Pays Ohio’s Nuclear Weapons Workers
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70 years ago, Battelle Labs on King Avenue did work to help develop the first atomic bomb. The research proved critical to the American war effort in the mid 1940s. But, the success came at a cost to workers at Battelle and three Ohio nuclear weapons plants. Now, the federal government is paying claims.
The federal Department of Labor has expanded the number of former Battelle workers eligible for compensation and medical benefits after being exposed to radiation during and shortly after the Second World War. Labor Department spokeswoman, Rachel Leiton, says in 2001 congress approved payments to thousands of eligible workers in the nuclear weapons industry, including more than 60 former employees at Battelle Labs on King Avenue.
“The activities that were performed there were processing and machining enriched natural and depleted uranium and thorium. Fabricating fuel elements, analyzing radio chemicals and studying power metallurgy.” Says Leiton.
Federal health officials identified 22 types of cancer linked to radiation exposure among eligible workers and their survivors. Battelle spokesman T.R. Massey estimates the King Avenue labs employed about 400 workers when nuclear weapons research began in 1943.
“We have been cooperating and helping in identifying and providing records of people from that time.” Massey says.
Leiton says so far, the Department of Labor has paid $7,300,000 for claims from Battelle workers and their survivors. But, she anticipates more claims now that the pool of eligible workers has been expanded to include employees that worked at Battelle as late as 1956.
“Employees would be eligible for $150,000 plus medical benefits….and if the employee is deceased then the survivor would be entitled to $150,000 as well.” Leiton says.
Leiton says the compensation program was created because the federal government put people “in harm’s way” during wartime. Both she and Massey at Battelle say it’s uncertain whether the workers knew at the time the potential workplace health risks.
“I don’t know, I don’t have personal knowledge of whether people knew the dangers of exposure to radiological elements at the time. I do know that in April of 1943 we had an initial contract with the Manhattan Engineering District to perform atomic energy research and development activities for the government.” Says Massey.
Battelle Labs is one of four Ohio facilities included in the compensation program. In total, more than $900-million dollars in claims have been paid to more than 6,000 former workers and their survivors at three other nuclear weapons plants in Piketon, Hamilton, and Miamisburg.