Federal Legislators Introduce Bill to Help Nuclear Workers Exposed to Toxic Substances

Nuclear workers who are ill because of workplace exposure to toxic chemicals and other substances will find it easier to get compensation if a new bill introduced in Congress becomes law.

Named the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2021, this legislation gained the endorsement of the USW, the building trades and atomic worker advocacy groups.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA-09) re-introduced the bill on March 25, 2021. Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

The USW requests that members reach out to their members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the bill.

This legislation helps cleanup workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site and other Department of Energy (DOE) environmental management sites obtain worker’s compensation when they have certain medical conditions because of exposure to toxic substances.

Sen. Murray and Rep. Smith originally introduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act in July 2020 after the Seattle Times published an investigative article on Hanford workers who were having trouble getting workers’ compensation after exposure to toxic substances. The contractor had given them respirators that leaked.

Under a 2018 presumption law in Washington state, Hanford workers with certain diseases are presumed to have developed them because of work exposure, so they receive workers’ compensation much easier. But, Hanford workers who get sick because of exposure to toxic substances have had a more difficult time getting compensation.

The bill has three major parts:

The first part creates a Special Exposure Cohort, which is a list of covered diseases that are presumed to have been caused by exposure to toxic substances at work. The bill specifies that the list should include current information on the exposure that results in the diseases. If a worker has one of these diseases it will be presumed that the illness was caused by the worker’s exposure to toxic substances at the cleanup sites. This simplifies the worker’s ability to get compensation.

The covered illnesses include all forms of cancer, malignant mesothelioma, silicosis, asbestosis, other asbestos-related diseases, and other illnesses learned through health studies reports.

The second part of the bill creates a five-year funding program to conduct epidemiological and health studies programs to research diseases and the exposure to toxic substances at DOE facilities.

The third part directs the National Academy of Sciences to review and summarize scientific and medical evidence concerning the association between exposures to toxic substances found at DOE sites and resulting diseases. The academy will issue reports to include additional diseases if the evidence shows they should be in the cohort. It also will recommend to Congress more studies if it sees a need to resolve areas of continuing scientific uncertainty. This program will last 10 years.

“USW’s atomic workers are exposed to a number of chemical hazards in their cleanup of DOE sites, and we fight every day to keep workers safe on the job,” said USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown. “This bill will ensure they receive compensation they’ve earned should they get sick from their work.”

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