Miners' advocate Key dies
Fruita man with IOU loses lung disease fight
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer, News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Former uranium miner Bob Key lost his battle to a lung disease Saturday, just days after President Bush signed a bill to pay his long overdue government IOU. The 61-year-old Fruita resident was an outspoken advocate for fellow miners and others with radiation-related illnesses who had been waiting since last year with unpaid IOUs under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The Justice Department program issued only IOUs for up to $100,000 to hundreds of nuclear test participants, downwind residents and Cold War uranium miners such as Key.

Congress took action in a supplemental appropriations bill last month, and Bush signed it into law two weeks ago.

Lawmakers were prodded to act by stories of suffering from ailing victims such as Key, who was featured in a Rocky Mountain News story earlier this year.

"I think it's a broken promise," Key said in March, telling how he had to back out of some medical treatments because he could not afford to travel.

"The fact that these miners stepped forward and put a human face on this issue was crucial," said Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, who was one of several Colorado lawmakers to lobby for the funds. "It's certainly what moved me over the past few years."

Key worked in the mines near Gateway from 1958 to 1963. Like a lot of miners, later he contracted pulmonary fibrosis, which required him to use portable oxygen 24 hours a day.

He died Saturday at St. Mary's Hospital.

After Congress took action: "He was glad, but he was also saying, 'I'll believe it when I see my check,' " said his son, Jerry Key.

The check is due in several weeks to his wife of 40 years, Phyllis. Although current IOU holders will be paid, future claims are still subject to year-to-year budget wrangling.

"I don't want to be in a position to read any more obituaries of miners who haven't been compensated," Udall said.

August 2, 2001