A dollar short: Ailing Piketon workers left in lurch
July 26, 2001
How many times can a person in this country be skewered by his own government? Tim Gannon is still counting.

As a young man, his government lied to him. In 1980, Gannon started working at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, where he helped produce weapons-grade enriched uranium, a key component in manufacturing nuclear bombs during the Cold War. There, he and colleagues unknowingly worked in an environment where plutonium-laced uranium and other hazardous materials were handled for an indefinite time. Plutonium is thousands of times more radioactive than the uranium normally handled at the plant; even one- millionth of an ounce can cause cancer.

Nearly two decades later, Gannon learned his work at the plant likely had sickened him. He was diagnosed with cancer, which spread from his colon to his liver, kidney and rectum, leaving him largely confined to his bedroom.

Now, even as Congress finally has approved a compensation package for nuclear workers like him who have become ill, Gannon finds his government has created a financially devastating loophole that will leave him with nearly $100,000 in medical bills uncovered by the federal benefits.

But his claim for state workers' compensation to cover those bills is expected to be difficult to win. Whereas workers' compensation systems require solid proof of the cause of medical problems before benefits are paid, Gannon and other nuclear workers are unable to produce definitive histories of their exposures and work conditions because of government secrecy.

Moreover, USEC, the privatized federal corporation that runs the Portsmouth plant, is a self-insured company that pays its own state workers' compensation claims and won't automatically certify an occupational- disease claim filed by someone, such as Gannon, without medical exams and an Ohio Industrial Commission hearing.

So, the government that failed to protect Gannon and lied to him about the safety of his workplace now offers some degree of help but saddles him with enough medical debt to cripple most families financially. No wonder people lose faith in the institutions that are designed to protect and help them.

Comments: One must remember that HF is a large factor at Ports as well, and all the Pu scare is about pulling attention off that toxic.