On March 8, I attended a meeting at the Senior Citizen Center in Lackawanna, for families who were unknowingly exposed to toxic radiation at Bethlehem Steel in the 1950s.
Ed Walker, a cancer survivor and former Bethlehem employee, told the group that many workers' claims for compensation have been denied by the U.S. Department of Labor. Walker exposed the flaws in the government's Dose Reconstruction Report.
From 1949 to 1952, Bethlehem Steel had a contract with the federal government to roll uranium rods for nuclear reactors. Most of the men who worked in that capacity contracted cancer and have died. A few survivors are living in a skeleton of a body ravaged by the deadly disease.
I looked into the eyes of the survivors and found it miraculous that they were still alive since they were inflicted with scars, missing organs and deformities. They attended this meeting because their claims were denied. Their deaths may be imminent, and government leaders are stalling.
My father, Russell Cordova, suffered with spindle cell carcinoma for a year before he died at age 69. I vividly remember his excruciating suffering and his words during the time he worked at Bethlehem Steel.
He said, "I am inhaling poisonous fumes and I feel like I'm sweating drops of blood." As a child, I felt perplexed that my father had to work in a place like that just to make a living for his wife and five children.
When Walker described the working conditions in the Bar Mill, my father's words echoed in my ears. I finally found out why the fumes were so bad. He was inhaling toxic dust from radioactive uranium while he was burning red hot steel rods. The government and Bethlehem Steel did not provide any protection to innocent workers; while the Simonds Saw facility in Lockport did provide ventilation hoods for workers who were similarly exposed to radiation under the same government project.
I helped my mother write a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor to oppose its denial of my mother's claim for compensation. She had to relive those painful moments of my father's suffering.
My mother sent copies of her letter to President Bush and Reps. Tom Reynolds and Louise Slaughter. I wonder if any of them will take time out of their busy schedules and personally write a letter to my mother? Do they know what it feels like to be victimized and betrayed by their government in the 1950s and again now when their claims are denied based on erroneous computer-generated lies?
There are many victims of the incompetence of the government and a multimillion dollar steel company. Financial gain was their goal, which was paid for by the sacrificial suffering of their loyal employees. The government is offering $150,000 as compensation for only a privileged few, which is hardly adequate atonement for the painful losses it created. Do these people have a conscience? Can they sleep at night knowing their mistakes are perpetuating eternal suffering?
The timing is crucial. The victims and their families need compensation now! We should not wait one moment more, because the lives of valuable human beings are in the crucible. We must act today, because tomorrow may not be here for many of them.
Linda Marshall, of Amherst, believes that steelworkers exposed to radioactive uranium deserve compensation.