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Government to open Flats health office

By Berny Morson, News Staff Writer

The federal government will open an office near Rocky Flats to help workers win compensation for health problems from exposure to toxic materials, such as plutonium and beryllium.

The office will open in mid-June, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday. The department also will open an office at the Denver regional center to expedite claims.

Similar offices will open near seven other sites around the nation where nuclear weapons parts were manufactured during the Cold War.

On Aug. 1, the Labor Department will begin distributing to the injured workers compensation of up to $150,000 plus lifetime medical benefits under a program first announced in 1999.

Counselors at the new offices will inform workers and former workers of the program and help them fill out claim forms, said Peter Turcic, the head of a Labor Department task force focusing on workers' problems in the nuclear weapons industry.

The offices also will help obtain work records to show that employees were in areas with toxic materials, Turcic said.

The government does not know how many claims to expect since some could come from people who left the nuclear weapons industry decades ago. However, the Labor and Energy departments have used a working estimate of 3,000 people nationwide, half of whom contracted cancer.

At least 115 people at Rocky Flats became ill from inhaling beryllium dust, but 100 others are at risk of developing the disease. Beryllium is a metal that was machined into bomb parts.

Many others at Rocky Flats came in contact with plutonium, a heavy metal linked to cancer.

Members of Colorado's congressional delegation had urged the Labor Department to open offices to help the nuclear workers.

"That means there's going to be a dedicated effort to try to identify those people so they can begin to get reimbursed," Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said Thursday.

Tony DeMaiori, the head of the United Steel Workers local at Rocky Flats, said, "We think that's great. . . . That $150,000 will be greatly appreciated."

The federal government throughout the Cold War had brushed off claims from workers that they contracted diseases from exposure to plutonium and beryllium dust.

That stance changed in 1999, when President Clinton and former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said the government should meet its responsibility to people who manufactured nuclear weapons.

May 4, 2001

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