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Editorial: Survivors of nuclear workers losing out

Arnold Young’s sons are pursuing justice for their late father and others caught in similar situations. Their lawsuit against the federal government could change the rules governing compensation for workers exposed to radiation during World War II.
The claim is a reasonable response to the suffering their father and others went through based on their work in dangerous environments during World War II and later the Cold War. The workers were unwittingly exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that would eventually contribute to their deaths.
 The tragedy is compounded by bureaucratic hurdles, as the sons, Kevin and Shannon Young, can attest. They told their story to News staff reporter Thomas J. Prohaska.
Arnold Young worked for three companies that handled radioactive metals under government contracts during and after World War II. And although a government program was set up years ago to pay compensation to the survivors of former nuclear workers who died of cancer, the rules setting up the fund unfairly exclude Young.
First, Young had the misfortune to die of prostate cancer, the “wrong” kind of cancer. As Prohaska wrote, had Young died from any of 22 kinds of cancer on the federal government list, his survivors would almost automatically have been paid $150,000 in compensation.
The government decided to exclude prostate cancer and skin cancer from the automatic payout list because they are so common. Limiting the automatic compensation to victims of just those 22 cancers allowed the government to reduce its liability by heading off potentially thousands of additional claims.
The rules did provide a way for survivors of some of those workers to claim compensation. If a government formula determined that there was at least a 50 percent chance that the cancer was caused by radiation exposure, the compensation would be paid.
 In Young’s case, the government determined that there was a 49.18 chance that radiation caused his prostate cancer, making him ineligible for compensation. The government arrived at a suspiciously ultra-precise figure, thereby saving it $150,000. The attorney representing the Youngs put it best when he said “a feather on the scale” could make the sons eligible for compensation.
 The formula governing the chance that a cancer was caused by workplace exposure is rigged against claimants such as Young because it arbitrarily excludes exposure during World War II.
From 1941 to 1945, Young worked at what was known as Electro Met, on 56th Street  in Niagara Falls. He was engaged in tasks involving the Manhattan Project, the effort to build an atomic bomb. The plant processed uranium tetrafluoride received from Union Carbide’s Linde Air Products Division to produce uranium metal that was shipped out to Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna.
After 1945, Young worked at Carborundum Co. in Niagara Falls, and from 1956 to 1971 he worked at the Linde plant in the Town of Tonawanda, which processed uranium for the government from 1942 to 1949.
The government arrived at its 49.18 percent figure by giving Young credit for working after World War II in a plant that had “residual radioactivity” and that eventually had to be decontaminated. But the government does not credit workers for possible exposure during World War II. In Young’s case, that was likely his most serious exposure to radiation.
Back in 2011, the U.S. Labor Department rejected the claim of Arnold Young’s widow based on this wrongheaded reasoning. Her husband had a work history that should have immediately and without question added him to the compensation rolls.
Dorothy Young died in 2014 at the age of 96, sadly without seeing proper recognition of the suffering her husband endured because of work he performed for the defense of the United States. Her sons are carrying on the fight, one they deserve to win.
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