The Pantex Saga

A task force led by Metal Trades Department (MTD) Special Representative for Nuclear Weapons Workers Health, Shel Samuels, is petitioning for workers at Pantex to be granted a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) under the Energy Employees Occupational Disease Compensation Act. Samuels along with claimant’s representative Sarah Dworzack Ray, and Professor Lar Fuortes, MD, of the University of Iowa’s occupational health program have requested that the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius include those employed between 1951 and 1957 under the SEC. On October 30, 2013, workers in the ’84 to ’91 class were admitted to the SEC.

A SEC is a uniquely defined category of employees established under the EEOCPA, which would allow Pantex workers’ to bypass the lengthy process called radiation dose reconstruction.

On November 6, the MTD petitioners called for a special review of the exclusion of workers employed from ‘51 through ’57, the latest chapter in the sad saga documenting the struggle of unions to protect their members that began more than a generation ago.

The MTD’s original petition for an SEC dates back to 2006. That petition was filed on behalf of former Pantex workers and their unions, claiming that dose reconstruction by NIOSH was not feasible, triggering the default provision of the Act and enabling an SEC. The claim was based upon the absence of an adequate records base. The Advisory Board to the NIOSH program initially recommended denial of the petition, but the MTD’s representative filed a reply that indicated that NIOSH had fundamental scientific flaws in its interpretation of the dose reconstruction process.

Special exposure cohort status has been granted to a number of federal nuclear facilities around the country, including K-25 in Oak Ridge and the earliest work years at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, but worker advocates have been calling for the designation to apply to all plants associated with production of nuclear weapons.