Crapo continues 8-year quest to aid Idaho ‘downwinders’

Idaho’s senior Sen. Mike Crapo has again joined New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall as the lead Republican sponsor of amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a 1990 law passed to compensate Americans for illness and death caused in the development and testing of nuclear weapons.

Since 2005, when he introduced his first bill, Crapo has worked to expand RECA’s “compassionate” payments to downwinders beyond 21 counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Crapo got involved after Idahoans who believed they were sickened by radiation convinced the National Academy of Sciences to hold a hearing in Boise.

In 1997, the National Cancer Institute released a study estimating fallout from iodine-131 in the Lower 48 states. The report said four Idaho counties – Gem, Blaine, Custer and Lemhi – ranked in the top five in the Lower 48 states for per capita thyroid dosage from bomb-related radiation. The other 40 Idaho counties all had higher thyroid dosage than some RECA-covered counties. Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, author of the law, has resisted expansion.

The latest measure, S. 773, was introduced Thursday. Other co-sponsors are Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch and Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado. S. 773 mirrors S. 791, introduced in 2011. The bill would establish parity for downwinders who contract cancers associated with bomb tests, along with uranium workers and on-site employees. Injured parties would be eligible for payments of $150,00. To date, $1.8 billion in claims have paid under the law, with $842 million going to almost 17,000 downwinders.

Current law allows payments of $50,000 to downwinders or their survivors, $75,000 to on-site participants at atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and $100,000 to uranium miners, millers and ore transporters.

Said Crapo in a Friday news release: “Idaho Communities and individuals that have been adversely affected by our nation’s weapons programs must be justly and sufficiently compensated by the federal government. Passage of this bipartisan legislation is crucial in ensuring Idahoans get the care they need.”

Said Risch: “This bill once again seeks a fair resolution for those people impacted by the nuclear testing program, just as others in surrounding states have been provided. Idahoans deserve the same care and compensation because of the identical health effects.”

The news release follows:

 

BIPARTISAN GROUP OF SENATORS REINTRODUCE RECA AMENDMENTS ACT

Bill Would Expand Relief for Americans Sickened by Radiation Exposure

 

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are renewing their efforts to expand restitution for Idahoans and Americans living downward of atomic weapons tests or working in uranium mines.  Crapo and Risch are joining Senators Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Mark Udall (D-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) to introduce the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2013. Companion legislation is also being introduced in the House by Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.-3).

April 19, 2013 is the 24th anniversary of the introduction of the original Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in the U.S. Senate.  Among other things, the RECA Amendments of 2013 would build upon previous RECA legislation by qualifying post 1971 uranium workers for compensation; equalizing compensation for all claimants to $150,000; expanding the downwind exposure area to include seven states downwind of the Nevada and Trinity Test Sites; and funding an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

“Idaho Communities and individuals that have been adversely affected by our nation’s weapons programs must be justly and sufficiently compensated by the federal government,” said Crapo. “Passage of this bipartisan legislation is crucial in ensuring Idahoans get the care they need.”

“This bill once again seeks a fair resolution for those people impacted by the nuclear testing program, just as others in surrounding states have been provided.  Idahoans deserve the same care and compensation because of the identical health effects,” said Risch.

“We have seen the heartbreaking effects of those who sacrificed their health and lives by working or living near uranium mines and nuclear test sites in the mid-20th century,” said Tom Udall. “Many Americans unwittingly paid the price for our national security, and unfortunately, some victims fell through the cracks in the original legislation. Expanding RECA will provide these individuals with recognition so that they can receive the much needed compensation they deserve.”

Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2013 would:

 

·         Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed after Dec. 31, 1971.  These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.

 

·         Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.

 

·         Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.

 

·         Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked for a short time in a mill and for a short time in a mine would be able to add that period of time up to meet the work history eligibility requirements for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.

 

·         Make all claimants eligible for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.

 

·         Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.

 

·         Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.

 

·         Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.

 

·         Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.

 

·         Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.

 

·         Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research.

 

·         Allow in the miners, millers, core drillers, and ore transporters to file a Special Exposure Cohort petition within the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Other DOE workers are currently allowed to file such petitions for compensation when claims are denied and there is not enough information for NIOSH to do dose reconstruction to determine the impacts of exposure.

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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