Justice delayed is justice denied, and that doesn't necessarily apply just to courtrooms. For former Bethlehem Steel workers who unknowingly dealt with uranium in a rolling plant in Lackawanna in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the delays are rooted in federal bureaucracy.
By now, those who are still alive -- or their survivors -- continue to seek from the government what amounts to $150,000 in compensation for those whose health was damaged by exposure to radiation. Getting that compensation hasn't been so easy. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health requires a laborious reconstruction process -- with a formula outrageously based on exposure estimates from another site entirely -- to determine whether health impairments should be linked to this cause.
Whether individual workers qualify for compensation is based on estimates of the amount of radiation they were exposed to and the types of cancer they contracted. That process has taken far too long, and critics contend the site differences mean the government is trying to compare apples with oranges.
Joyce A. Walker's late husband, Ed, worked at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna as a young man and the bricks he thought he was laying turned out to be uranium-laden. It wasn't until 2000 that the government acknowledged that it had a secret project with the Federal Atomic Energy Commission to roll uranium once a month for four years, starting in 1949. Ill with bladder cancer by then, he endured a circuitous process and claim denial, but doggedly pursued justice from the government for both himself and his fellow co-workers.
Joyce Walker now carries on the fight. Former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds have pursued the matter as well, and were joined by Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Reps. Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter. So far the bureaucracy has proven a patient and formidable opponent, although the Obama administration is thought to be much more welcoming on the idea of compensation. Hope for families resides in Senate and House compensation bills that would force the issue. Those bills deserve support.