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March 27, 2001


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Article published March 27, 2001

Don’t delay beryllium aid

IF LABOR Secretary Elaine Chao has any intention to obstruct the program to compensate northwest Ohio nuclear weapons workers made ill by exposure to beryllium, she should forget about it.

In the midst of the trashing of a whole series of workplace-safety and environmental regulations by the business-friendly Bush administration comes news that Ms. Chao has asked the White House to rescind the executive order under which the program was created and transfer it to the Justice Department.

Fortunately, Ohio’s U.S. senators, George Voinovich and Mike DeWine, have intervened with a strongly worded letter to Ms. Chao, trying to get the program back on track.

Mr. Voinovich and Mr. DeWine were instrumental in Congress’ appropriation in December of $60 million for the program, which is intended to compensate weapons workers suffering from cancer or lung ailments due to exposure to radiation, silica, or beryllium. Payments are expected to go to at least 4,000 people, including a number who contracted Chronic Beryllium Disease working at the Brush Wellman plant in Elmore. Some of them are desperately ill.

The plight of the beryllium victims was featured in an award-winning series of articles in The Blade in 1999. The series led to congressional investigations and an unprecedented admission by the government that nuclear weapons workers of the Cold War era had been harmed by their labor. The program is to provide lump-sum compensation of $150,000 per worker, plus medical benefits to those still living. It’s not much, but it will help.

The Labor Department is due to begin accepting applications for the program within a few months. Ms. Chao claims that the work could be better accomplished by a radiation compensation program in the Justice Department, but the senators point out that Justice officials testified at a hearing last year that that department "does not have the necessary infrastructure or expertise to administer this program effectively." That’s why it was assigned to Labor.

Ms. Chao should know that, but since she’s new on the job we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Only the coldest bureaucrat would want to sabotage a program to aid Americans who unwittingly forfeited their health in service to their country.

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