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Sons of nuke worker try again to obtain federal death benefits

A Buffalo attorney filed a revised lawsuit against the federal government Friday on behalf of two Niagara County men whose father died of prostate cancer decades after working in a Niagara Falls plant that processed nuclear material for the government.

Attorney R. Hugh Stephens sued the Labor Department again, seeking a change in government policy that now blocks Kevin Young of Lewiston and Shannon Young of Wheatfield from collecting $150,000 in compensation for the 1985 death of their father, Arnold Young, from prostate cancer.

The Youngs' first attempt to change the rules of the benefit program was thrown out of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., last August, but Judge John D. Bates' ruling allowed them to try again and even included three pages of legal tips that, the judge wrote, might have led to a more successful lawsuit.

Stephens' amended filing followed some of the judge's suggestions. Instead of asking the court to order a complete reconstruction of the radiation exposure Arnold Young was subjected to, the suit now asks for a reasonable estimate, as Bates recommended.

During World War II, the elder Young worked at Electro Metallurgical Co. in Niagara Falls, which had a government contract to process uranium tetrafluoride, a radioactive material.

In 2000, a federal law was passed guaranteeing $150,000 to workers – or their survivors – if they contracted one of 22 types of cancer in the wake of working in plants that were hired to handle radioactive material for government projects. The government has paid more than $14 billion in death benefits because of that law.

But victims of prostate and skin cancers, because they are so common, were not included in the automatic payouts. Instead, the Labor Department created a scoring system – one that disadvantaged workers who were on the job during World War II.

Because of inadequate records on exposure to radioactivity during the war years, workers were not given credit for any exposure they might have endured before 1945.

That left Arnold Young short of the 50 percent probability needed to qualify for the $150,000 payout under the scoring system. The Labor Department, using only postwar exposure, decided the chances of his prostate cancer being caused by his Electro Metallurgical work were 49.18 percent.

Thus, even a tiny addition to the score by counting Young's exposure during World War II would enable his sons, now in their 70s, to split the $150,000 benefit.

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