Representative Smith, Senators Murray and Manchin, Reintroduce Legislation to Expand Worker’s Compensation for Toxic Exposure at Hanford and Other Nuclear Sites
March 25, 2021
The Toxic Exposure Safety Act would make it easier for workers at the Hanford clean-up and other nuclear clean-up sites to receive the full benefits they’re entitled to when suffering illnesses due to toxic exposure on the job
Senator Murray and Representative Adam Smith originally introduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act in July of 2020 after the Seattle Times ran an investigative story
Legislation supported by Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 598, Central WA Building & Construction Trades
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, WA-09), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate health and labor committee, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Chair of the Senate energy committee, reintroduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act—legislation in the Senate that will ensure cleanup workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site and other Department of Energy (DOE) environmental management sites can more easily claim worker’s compensation benefits when they suffer from certain medical conditions as a result of exposure to toxic substances. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA, 9th) is introducing companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Currently, Hanford workers can file for worker’s compensation claims when they have health issues through both the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries and DOE’s third-party insurer, Penser. Washington state’s 2018 presumption law makes it easier for Hanford workers to file for state compensation claims for covered conditions, but the state program, while valuable, very often falls short of being able to compensate these workers equitably when they are off the job from work-related illness due to toxic exposure. The Toxic Exposure Safety Act seeks to make such claims at the federal level more achievable, and allow Hanford workers and workers at similar DOE sites to collect the full worker’s compensation benefits they’re entitled to.
“There is still a lot to learn regarding the long-term impacts of working nuclear cleanup sites such as Hanford, but it is clear there are certain risks to the health and wellbeing of workers,” said Congressman Smith. “There is an absence of research focused on these impacts and unfortunately, when workers develop medical illness as a result of exposure to toxic substances, they struggle to receive benefits under federal law in many instances to address their ailments. The Toxic Exposure Safety Act would facilitate the research necessary to understand the impacts of toxic substance exposure on workers’ health so they can rightfully receive the compensation they deserve for illnesses contracted on the job. I appreciate Senator Murray sharing my concerns – I thank her for her leadership in fighting for Hanford workers and I am proud to join her and Senator Manchin on this important bill.”
“There is too much we don’t know when it comes to the health outcomes of exposure to the toxic substances required for plutonium production and other activities at nuclear sites that workers at Hanford go through every day,” said Senator Murray. "This legislation takes the right steps to help fix this knowledge gap and ensure Hanford workers and those at other nuclear clean-up sites can obtain the full benefits they’re entitled to when they’ve contracted illnesses as a result of workplace exposure. As a voice for Hanford workers in the Senate, I will be working to pass this legislation and get them the support and assistance they deserve.”
“Americans who work to clean up nuclear sites risk their health every day to help power our great nation. These workers are exposed to radiological substances and chemicals that can cause terminal illness, and we must ensure they receive the benefits they deserve. I’m proud to work with my colleagues to introduce the Toxic Exposure Safety Act, which will make it easier for workers at nuclear clean-up sites to claim worker’s compensation benefits when they are afflicted with illness due to toxic exposure. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in passing this commonsense, compassionate legislation and I will continue to advocate for stronger safety and benefits to support workers who have been exposed to toxins on the job,” said Senator Manchin.
Senator Murray and Representative Smith originally introduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act in July of 2020 after the Seattle Times ran an investigative story profiling a worker who suffered from seizures after being exposed to toxic substances at the Plutonium Finishing Plant on the Hanford site, as well as the financial problems the worker encountered following their diagnosis.
“Every day our Nation relies on skilled and dedicated working families to serves our Country’s needs and accomplish our most important goals. There is no more apparent example of this dedication than the decades of operation and remediation performed at our Nation’s nuclear cleanup sites. The hazardous nature of this work has the potential to expose workers to some of the most toxic substances on earth. Too long have the impacts of these toxic substance exposures been overlooked and their study underfunded, leaving many hardworking American families without the care they deserve. Senator Murray’s efforts address this injustice for so many families struggling with illness and will secure the research needed to protect American families as they continue their work on behalf of us all,” said Nickolas Bumpaous, President of Central Washington Building & Construction Trades.
"This legislation is an important reform to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA). EEOICPA was intended to compensate workers who worked for the national defense in the Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities and developed diseases from the exposures to toxic substances they experienced on a daily basis. The Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2021 will take the burden of proof off some of the claimants to prove causation and have claims based on the consensus of the scientific community. We thank Senator Patty Murray, Senator Joe Manchin, and Congressman Adam Smith for their continued efforts to support the dedicated workers, or their survivors, to receive the fair compensation for their work in protecting our country, " said Terrie Barrie, Founding Member of the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups.
"Cold War Patriots applauds the ongoing efforts of Senator Murray, Senator Manchin, and Congressman Smith to create and pass much needed legislation to streamline the claims process for toxic illnesses and expand program coverage to those workers previously overlooked.” Tim Lerew, Spokesperson, Cold War Patriots.
The Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2020 would expand covered employees and the covered illnesses under subtitle E, Section 3671 of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 (EEOICPA) to specifically include employees exposed to toxic substances at cleanup sites. Part E provides variable cash and medical benefits for DOE contractor and subcontractor employees who contracted an illness or died as a result of exposure to any toxic substance, as well as their eligible survivors. A person is eligible for Part E benefits if it is “at least as likely as not” that exposure to a toxic substance at a DOE facility caused, contributed to, or aggravated the worker’s illness or death.
There has been a lack of substantial clinical or epidemiological studies performed in relation to toxic exposures at DOE sites, and as such, there is no way to create an accurate causal correlation for Part E, similar to what has been effectively established for Part B of the program, which involves radiological exposures. As a result of the lack of this knowledge, federal law provides very little remedy to workers who suffer illness from these toxic exposures. To that end, the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2020 would amend Part E of the EEOICPA to establish a presumption of occupational disease exposures, create a research program to determine exposure-disease correlation, and direct the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate scientific evidence regarding chemical exposures—making it easier for Hanford clean-up workers and workers at other DOE nuclear clean-up sites to claim federal worker’s compensation benefits.
Senator Murray has long worked to make sure the federal government honors its moral and legal obligation to Hanford clean-up, including fighting repeatedly against efforts to slash or cut federal funding for the vital DOE project and advocating on at the federal level on separate occasions to help ensure Hanford workers receive sick leave back pay and regular pay during work-stop periods due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Murray and her office began working in 2019 to investigate the needs of Hanford workers who have specifically been exposed to toxic chemicals at DOE sites.
Congressman Smith has fought for worker safety and protections at the Hanford site for years. In his role as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Smith has passed into law provisions to enhance whistleblower protections, increase accountability for the release of radioactive or hazardous contamination, and improved transparency on vapors from nuclear tanks. He has also fought for better oversight of nuclear facilities across the country, including protecting the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) from dangerous cuts and reforms that harm its mission of independent nuclear safety and oversight.
In addition to Senators Murray and Manchin and Representative Smith, Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) cosponsored the legislation.
The legislation is supported by the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, Building Trades, Local 598, and the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups, and Cold War Patriots
Read the bill text HERE.
For more information, read the fact sheet available HERE.