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Release: Jan. 14, 2002

UI researchers survey former nuclear weapons workers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa College of Public Health researchers have mailed nearly 10,000 surveys to former workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAP) near Burlington to gather more details on workers' occupational histories at the plant. The work history survey is the latest undertaking of the Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant Former Worker Program, led by Laurence Fuortes, M.D., UI associate professor of occupational and environmental health.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the former worker program is assessing the health status of former IAAP employees who came in contact with an area of the plant known as Line 1. From 1945 through 1975, workers on Line 1 assembled and disassembled atomic weapons for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the precursor of the Department of Energy. Evidence suggests that a large number of plant employees may have had significant exposures to hazardous agents such as asbestos, beryllium, radiation and explosives.

The completed questionnaires will be used to determine former workers' eligibility for free medical screenings.

"Records from the IAAP were not detailed enough to determine exactly where and when each employee worked at the plant, so we sent out surveys to collect more information," said Kristina Venzke, project coordinator for the former worker program. "We're specifically looking for Line 1 workers, as well as people who had substantial contact with Line 1, during the years 1947 through 1975. Those are the individuals who may qualify for a free health screening."

Every former worker who returns a survey will be notified of his or her eligibility for a medical screening. The screenings, planned for this spring, will take place in Burlington and will include blood work, urinalysis, hearing tests, lung function tests and chest X-rays, if needed. Participants will be informed about the test results, risk factors and the need for any additional medical care. For more information on the former worker program, call the project's toll-free number at (866) 282-5818.

In a related matter, a traveling resource center where nuclear weapons workers or their survivors can get help applying for benefits under a new federal workers' compensation program, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, will open in Burlington next week. Former workers or survivors can receive help on Jan. 22, 23 and 24 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pzazz Motor Inn, 3003 Winegard Drive. Appointments can be scheduled by calling, toll-free, (866) 540-4977. Drop-ins are also welcome.

"Although they are somewhat related, the former worker survey and compensation program are two different programs requiring separate paperwork," Venzke said. "A completed survey may entitle a former worker to a free medical exam, but in order to file a claim for the federal compensation program, the official compensation forms must be filled out."

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act went into effect July 31, 2001 and provides $150,000 lump-sum compensation to nuclear weapons workers who became ill as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica on the job. An amendment to the law passed by Congress in December 2001 means that adult children will now be eligible for compensation if there is no surviving spouse. Under the law as it was originally written, children were eligible only if they were under age 18, full-time students under age 23 or incapable of self-support when their parent died.

Iowa is home to four facilities listed by the U.S. Department of Energy as nuclear weapons producers. They are the Ames Laboratory, Ames; Bendix Aviation (Pioneer Division), Davenport; the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, Burlington; and Titus Metals, Waterloo.