Nuclear Half-Lies

Mallinckrodt's workers were poisoned and the government said it would pay. So far, those promises haven't been kept.

But Brock argues that NIOSH should just forego dose reconstruction for ex-Mallinckrodt workers altogether -- and give those workers the same special designation that four other nuclear facilities have already received.

The designation -- known as special-exposure cohort status -- would mean that there wouldn't be any dose reconstruction. Once a worker proves employment and that he or she is suffering one of 21 certain kinds of diseases, the $150,000 payment is automatic. The four sites that already have the designation are located in Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Amchitka Island, Alaska.

Brock has contacted members of Missouri's congressional delegation, but none have expressed interest in introducing special cohort legislation for Mallinckrodt's ex-nuclear workers. Brock and her group have been circulating petitions to send to U.S. Christopher 'Kit' Bond (R-Missouri) asking him for the designation, but Richard Miller, the policy analyst, thinks it is doubtful that anything will happen legislatively. Adding an amendment would mean impacting budget appropriations, which he believes the politicians are loathe to do right now.

Brian Stauffer
Denise Brock founded United Nuclear Weapons Workers of St. Louis after the government didn't deliver on its promise to help Mallinckrodt workers
Mark Gilliland
Denise Brock founded United Nuclear Weapons Workers of St. Louis after the government didn't deliver on its promise to help Mallinckrodt workers

Another option for special-exposure cohort status, one that doesn't impact the budget, is to have NIOSH adopt the status administratively. It could decide that the site, because of the complex operations and lack of adequate dosing information, deserves to be a special cohort.

But NIOSH is in no hurry to make that leap. First, Elliott says, the special cohort rule hasn't been finalized. Second, he wants to try and do dose reconstruction first -- if it doesn't work, then NIOSH will consider the special-exposure designation for the Mallinckrodt facilities.

The program has paid out over $621 million in compensation and $14 million in medical bills -- much of it to the four special cohort plants.

None of the Mallinckrodt employees who worked at the Destrehan or Weldon Spring plants have received any payments.

The headquarters of the United Nuclear Weapons Workers is located in Dallas and Denise Brock's Lincoln County trailer. The unpaid executive director's office consists of a computer and file cabinets nestled in her bedroom and master bath. Brock's daughters and one of their friends field phone calls from people needing help with their claims.

Nineteen-year-old Courtney Hammond, a family friend, volunteers three days a week to help with the filing. She often works at the kitchen table, near a plaque that says, "If mama ain't happy...ain't nobody happy."

Nearby, Brock's granddaughter scampers across the floor wearing just a diaper, giving hugs and high-fives to outreached hands.

A FedEx delivery arrives, a pre-paid calling card sent from government employees who help administer the program to Brock, encouraging her to continue her work. A mail carrier arrives with letters from widows who pour out their life stories. One writes about her husband who was "a very healthy man and worked hard, sometimes seven days a week. When he did become ill and saw a doctor, the diagnosis was colon cancer. The first words out of both of us was 'that d*** Mallinckrodt chemical.' He died without seeing any grandchildren and before our last child graduated from college."

Another note comes written on a thank-you card: "The issue for the workers compensation at Mallinckrodt would have never progressed this far without your work."

But even though she advocates for all the workers, Brock's mother is still foremost in her mind.

"I keep thinking, 'Please God, let this come to fruition. Let her see a check in her hand. Let her live so she can enjoy this a little,'" Brock says.

But the road to compensation has been so difficult that Evelyn Coffelt has thought of giving up several times. "You feel like you lose hope," Coffelt says, but her daughter "keeps pushing it. She has been a lifesaver."

Not only are the delays and denials difficult, but filling out claims forms, reading the medical records she can get about her husband's illness and going through phone interviews with government officials has meant reliving a tragic period in not only her life, but her family's. At times, Coffelt questions whether it is worth reliving the painful memories again and again, only to be denied or delayed.

But Brock refuses to allow her mother to give up and give in. "When any of us think about it, this wasn't something that just happened. This was pushed on my father without his consent."

In March, Brock, Christopher Davis, and Evelyn Coffelt traveled to Cincinnati for a NIOSH-sponsored meeting. Both Brock and her mother prepared written statements to deliver to the board.

When she was given the opportunity, the petite 80-year-old walked to the microphone. She barely got out her name and her husband's name before she began to sob. She couldn't continue.

Brock led her mother back to her chair, then read her statement:

"Mallinckrodt did this to my family. It isn't just the loss of a loved one, it's the loss of a family. My husband gave all he had to that company and this government. He was one of the Cold War warriors, or were they victims?

"I am tired, I have worked my whole life. Originally, I thought that this compensation program would bring some quick relief. There is nothing quick about it. Do you think I should work until I'm 95 or 100 waiting to see if I might get compensated?"

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