PDT Staff Writer
A quilt bearning 1,250 names of people who worked in the nuclear industry during the Cold War years was the center of attraction at an event sponsored by Cold War Patriots Thursday at the Scioto County Courthouse. Cold War Patriots is an organization of more than 10,000 members which represents former nuclear workers and uranium workers.
“Two years ago we thought a really good way to honor those workers would be if we developed a commemmorative quilt,” Ron Elmlinger, National Outreach Representative for Cold War patriots, said. “So for all of 2011 we went all over the country, and we had people sign quilt squares, and what we are doing is displaying the quilt for the third time. And it consists of over 1,250 quilt squares that have names of nuclear weapons workers throughout the country, where they worked, and when they worked.”
Elmlinger said many of those workers, including those who worked at the Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, have become ill or died because of their exposure to radiation and toxic substances. Elmlinger said in 2000 the U.S. government initiated the Energy Employees Compensation Program, and locally the Energy Employees Resource Center, the Steelworkers Local 689 and the Building Trades have a medical screening program for those who worked in the nuclear industry. That resource provides financial compensation and medical care for the illnesses suffered by those workers.
Elmlinger said 3,972 individual cases have been filed and 1,834 have been approved, leading to a payout of more than $466 million, $152 million of that going for medical care.
“We give in-home skilled nursing care to patients who got diseases related to the work they did at the plant,” Doreen Barbee, Regional Director for Ohio and Indiana, with Professional Case Management, said. “We can give 24-7 care. We can do just monthly visits where we check on the patient and make sure their medications are what they need to be taking, how to take them, that sort of thing.”
Barbee said most of the patients are referred by their physicians, hospitals, family members, friends and neighbors.
Scheduled speakers for the event were Portsmouth Mayor David Malone, Portsmouth attorney Franklin T. Gerlach, who handles many of the cases involving the nuclear workers, Herman Potter of Steelworkers Local 689, and Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree.
“I have a deep appreciation for the Cold War workers,” Malone told those in attendance.
Gerlach revisited the dangers of that line of work.
“Back in 2000 when they created this, they recognized that the United States government had done you wrong,” Gerlach said. “They had lied to you; they did not explain the dangers; so they created this act (Energy Employees Compensation Program), so that you can be compensated. Nothing can compensate people for all the suffering that they’ve had. But the only way they can compensate is to compensate the people financially.”
One of the people who goes back to the beginning of the issue is Vina Colley.
“Around 1985, ‘87, there were four people who were out here trying to make awareness of what was going on in the (Piketon) facility,” Colley said. “We broke the story in 1999 about the plutonium at the plant. The organization was PRESS (Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security), and the National Nuclear Workers for Justice came along after that.”
Jackie White of Pro Case Management said the event would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Scioto County Commissioners.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.