Nuclear Half-Lies

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

The first time Christopher Davis told his wife he had trouble breathing, he had been working on the water heater in the laundry room. Evelyn told her husband to make an appointment with a doctor, but neither of them was terribly worried.

Until that day in 1967, life for the Davis family had been fairly uncomplicated and uneventful. Davis had a good job as a funeral-home chauffeur, one of the jobs he had since leaving his position at Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in 1960. Evelyn stayed home with the two youngest children. Sharon, the eldest, was already grown, married and starting a family; seven-year-old Denise's biggest worries were staying out of trouble with her six-year-old brother, Christopher Jr., and navigating parochial school.

Life was pretty good, Evelyn recalls, until Christopher Davis started gasping for air. Doctors would discover lung cancer, beginning years of medical procedures that broke Davis and ruined the family financially. First came radiation therapy, but the cancer had spread too far. Then doctors removed Davis' left lung, and from that point on, he was forced to rely on an oxygen tank. Later, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia, though doctors spared him that news, delivering it instead to Evelyn.

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
Brock (pictured with her mother, Evelyn Coffelt): "This wasn't something that just happened. This was pushed on my father without his consent."
Mark Gilliland
Brock (pictured with her mother, Evelyn Coffelt): "This wasn't something that just happened. This was pushed on my father without his consent."
Robert Alvarez, a Department of Energy senior policy advisor, uncovered a health study that showed Mallinckrodt workers had significantly higher cancer risk rates
Robert Alvarez, a Department of Energy senior policy advisor, uncovered a health study that showed Mallinckrodt workers had significantly higher cancer risk rates
Washington University Associate Professor Dr. Daniel McKeel Jr. is a member of UNWW's advisory board
Mark Gilliland
Washington University Associate Professor Dr. Daniel McKeel Jr. is a member of UNWW's advisory board
St. Louis activist Kay Drey helped Dr. Thomas Mancuso when he tried to complete a Mallinckrodt health study. His research is believed to be in her basement.
Mark Gilliland
St. Louis activist Kay Drey helped Dr. Thomas Mancuso when he tried to complete a Mallinckrodt health study. His research is believed to be in her basement.

Evelyn recalls that her husband's legs turned black and looked charred; she believes it was a side effect of the leukemia. Doctors debated amputation, but decided against it. "I'd take his elastic stockings off at night and his skin would rip off with them," she remembers.

The disease that ravaged his body destroyed the life he worked hard to create.

They had to sell the comfortable two-story home in Pine Lawn along with the furniture. The family bought a trailer, eventually moving it to Lincoln County, where daughter Sharon lived with her family. Evelyn worked as a secretary for an insurance company, took a job in a factory and after spending so much time in the Lincoln County Memorial Hospital with her husband, accepted a job handling patient accounts. She'd go to work on one floor in the hospital and visit her husband on another.

As Denise and her brother grew, so too did their responsibilities.

Instead of learning from his father how to throw a football, hunt or fix up cars, Christopher Jr. was taught how to regulate oxygen flow and mastered the art of putting tubes up his father's nose.

Denise says being home alone with her dad made her "apprehensive." She feared making a mistake with his oxygen, a mistake with fatal consequences.

"If he slept too soundly, I'd almost be afraid to walk in the room, in case there was a dead body," Denise recalls. "I'd go in there and shake him real hard, saying prayers in my heart -- 'God, please don't let him be dead.'"

Holidays were celebrated at the hospital. Family reunions took place at Christopher Davis' bedside. As a child, Denise would sit on the hospital room floor while her father's seven sisters gathered round and listened as a priest read the Last Rites, the Roman Catholic sacrament for the dying.

When Denise was a senior at Buchanan High School in Troy, her father's care became all-consuming. Sixteen-year-old Christopher Jr. quit school and stayed home with his dad while his mother worked. Denise waited tables and planned to get married. By mid-April, her wedding invitations had been mailed.

On April 27, 1978, Denise went into her father's bedroom before catching the bus to school. "I went in his room and I shook him and said, 'Bye, love you.' He looked me right in the eyes and said, 'Goodbye, I love you.'"

After Denise left and her mother went to work, Christopher Davis sat up on the couch, clutched his chest and died in his son's arms. Denise received the news from her brother and immediately left school for the hospital to say goodbye to a man who was already gone. When the family returned home, they set to work straightening furniture that had been knocked down by the paramedics, reminders of the last-ditch effort made to keep Davis alive.

A few days later, Christopher Davis was buried in the cemetery just across the street from the trailer.


When Christopher Davis went to work for Mallinckrodt's uranium division in 1945, he was joining one of the pioneers of America's Atomic Age. The St. Louis company's role started three years earlier -- just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In April 1942, Dr. Arthur Holly Compton, a noted physicist who'd later become chancellor of Washington University, requested a meeting with Edward Mallinckrodt Jr., president of the chemical company that bore his name.

Compton was one of the scientists assigned to work on a top-secret project for the Manhattan Engineering District. Its objective: Build an atomic bomb before the Nazis. But the scientists needed a large amount of purified uranium, and Compton hoped Mallinckrodt could help.

Refining uranium ore was dangerous: In addition to the risk of radiation exposure, the volatile process, if not carefully controlled, could cause explosions. Already three companies had refused to handle the work, Compton confided, but Edward Mallinckrodt didn't turn down the challenge. And during the 51 ensuing days, Mallinckrodt engineers hastily assembled a processing plant at the downtown St. Louis facility. The secret project was code-named "Tube Alloy."

On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi loaded Mallinckrodt-purified uranium into a reactor underneath the University of Chicago's Stagg Field bleachers and triggered the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction. Armed with the proof that an atomic bomb could be made, Mallinckrodt's service as a supplier of purified uranium became critical to the war effort. The problem was: Mallinckrodt, like other industries, moved into production under wartime conditions, when meeting demand was of paramount concern. Corners were cut; safety took a backseat.

Years later, Merrill Eisenbud, a former health and safety director for the Atomic Energy Commission, would recall what conditions were like in the 1940s. "These were plants that were designed to operate for, perhaps, 60 days, just to make enough uranium for a couple of bombs," Eisenbud told U.S. Department of Energy researchers in 1995. "They went on for five years, six years, something like that, and the exposures were very high."

The AEC ran the U.S. atomic weapons program and was also responsible for regulating its own safety and the safety of its contractors, including Mallinckrodt. According to Eisenbud, Mallinckrodt's operation in the city of St. Louis -- a plant known variously as MCW, "the main plant," "Destrehan," and "Plant 6" -- was one of the two worst plants in the country in terms of radiation exposure. That was the plant where Christopher Davis worked for fifteen years.

In addition to being hastily erected, Mallinckrodt's plant also processed the most toxic form of uranium ore -- pitchblende exported from the Belgian Congo. Uranium ore mined in the United States typically contains only 1 percent of actual uranium, uranium 238. But pitchblende is unique. It contains as much as 60 percent uranium, both U-238 and Uranium 235, which is very rare and highly toxic. As the pitchblende was processed, it exposed workers to radiation not only from uranium but also material that is even more toxic: thorium, three types of radon, three types of radium, three types of polonium and actinium. Also used at the plant was beryllium, a highly toxic metal.

By Eisenbud's calculations, workers at Harshaw Chemical Company in Ohio and at Mallinckrodt were exposed to dust that contained far more uranium than what was considered safe -- even by the standards of the 1940s and 1950s. "I think the maximum amount of uranium in air was supposed to be 50 micrograms per cubic meter," Eisenbud recalled. "We were measuring milligrams per cubic meter; and they were excreting as much as a milligram a day in their urine." There are one thousand micrograms in a milligram.

In 1999, the government admitted in a report on Mallinckrodt that "exposure levels may have been nearly 200 times the contemporary maximum permissible concentration." June Fowler, Mallinc-krodt senior director of corporate communications and community affairs, says, "I can't comment on something I've not seen [but] our safety practices were always in line with what was required. Always have been."

Eisenbud, who was employed by the AEC from 1947 until 1957, said the government recognized even during the early years of the Cold War that many of the plants would need to be mothballed. "It was obvious that those plants either had to be fixed up or closed, and for the most part, they were closed."

In 1957, Mallinckrodt moved its uranium operations to Weldon Spring in St. Charles County and Hematite in Jefferson County, and the downtown uranium division was closed. But Eisenbud said that just before that happened, he and another researcher, Hanson Blatz, "took on the job of listing all of the employees that ever worked there and the doses that they received -- the whole body gamma dose, the dose to the lens of the eye, the radon dose -- and that was all tabulated."

In Weldon Spring, workers processed uranium and spent uranium. Hematite also worked with spent uranium, which is uranium that's been irradiated and contains plutonium and technetium, both substances that are more toxic than uranium. One-millionth of an ounce of plutonium can cause cancer. Mallinckrodt sold the Hematite plant in 1961 to United Nuclear Corporation, which continued enriching uranium.

Mallinckrodt's contract to process uranium for the government ended in 1966. In its 34 years of operation, the company's uranium division had employed about 3,300 people. Working for Mallinckrodt wasn't the only thing those people had in common: Years later, researchers studied deaths of workers through 1993, and the study showed that the employees tended to be afflicted with cancer more than the general population.

The rate of nephritis/kidney disease was 218 percent higher; respiratory diseases and lymphatic cancers were significantly elevated; cancer of the esophagus was 40 percent higher; rectum cancer, 45 percent higher; pancreatic cancer, 31 percent higher; kidney cancer, 34 percent higher; multiple myeloma/bone marrow cancer was 33 percent higher.

Few, if any, of those workers initially made any connection between workplace exposure to radiation and cancer. When they became sick, few, if any, sought workers' compensation benefits.

Mark Bruning, a former uranium-division worker who is fighting prostate cancer, can't recall any of his cancer-stricken ex-colleagues ever applying for workers' comp. And Christopher Davis didn't apply for compensation either. "We didn't know," says Denise Brock, his daughter. "We just thought it was a terrible break that he got cancer."

Robert Alvarez, senior policy advisor to the Secretary of Energy from 1993 to 1999, says he's not surprised that so few people made a connection between workplace exposure and later illnesses: Many workers from that era, Alvarez says, were told that the radiation "was no more than what they received from their wristwatch."

Decades would pass before the truth came out. Studies linking low-level radiation to cancer began appearing in the 1970s and lawsuits prompted by the near-meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 uncovered new information about nuclear safety and workplace exposure. By the late 1980s, consensus was forming that many workers in the nation's early nuclear weapons program had been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

Alvarez, as a U.S. Senate staff employee in the early 1990s, worked with U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) on legislation to compensate those workers. Richard Miller, now a senior policy analyst with the Government Accountability Project was the lead lobbyist for a union that also pushed for passage. But the legislative effort didn't gather momentum until there was a change in the White House. The new Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, opened classified records that helped build a case that the government and its contractors had exposed nuclear workers, without their knowledge and consent, to high levels of radiation. In 2000, Congress passed the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act of 2000, covering about 600,000 people at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $2 billion.

The law promised workers or their surviving families $150,000 for illnesses caused by radiation exposure, and it promised to help workers receive medical monitoring and costs from the state worker compensation programs. Although $150,000 wasn't much compensation for all the pain and suffering inflicted on the workers and their families, it was something. It was an acknowledgement that they'd been wronged by their employer and their government.

Christopher Davis' widow, Evelyn Coffelt (she'd remarried, then divorced, after Davis' death) was among those who applied for compensation. She thought the federal law was unambiguous: She was married to a Mallinckrodt nuclear worker, he was dead, and she was entitled to compensation. But for three years, the government at various times denied and delayed her application.

"You're thinking you're gonna get it," Coffelt says. "Then different things come up and they need this and they need that so you have to run and try and get it. You get really down, there were days I just cried."

Denise Brock couldn't understand why her mother was having such a hard time collecting on the claim. Angry that her elderly mother was encountering so many obstacles, she began making inquiries. What she found surprised her. It wasn't just her mother who was getting the runaround: Everybody connected with Mallinckrodt who'd filed a claim was having similar problems.

It was time to organize.


At first blush, Denise Brock is an unlikely expert on nuclear-weapons production, health studies and the federal bureaucracy. She lives in a trailer in Moscow Mills with her ironworker husband Dallas Brock. At 43, she has two daughters and a one-year old granddaughter.

But she's also a survivor. She's been through two marriages and is on her third. She went back to school and earned an associate degree in psychology; she's worked in factories, for lawyers and a bail bondsman, and even had a stint as a cop in Lincoln County. "I'm very strong willed," she says, and notes that it was that very trait that caused her to butt heads with her father as a child. "I tortured that poor man."

When Brock first heard about the nuclear-worker compensation act on the evening news in 2000, she thought that maybe her mother's luck was taking a long-overdue turn for the better. She told her mother; her brother Chris took Evelyn Coffelt to an informational meeting at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. Only about twenty people attended, but what Coffelt heard gave her hope: If she could prove that her husband worked in Mallinckrodt's uranium division between 1942 and 1966 and was ill or had died from a cause linked to radiation exposure, she could collect $150,000 under Part B of the federal law. (Another section of the law, Part D, allows sick workers to ask a physicians' review panel to determine whether their illnesses were linked to radiation exposure. If the answer was yes, then they'd recommend to the state that the person receive workers' comp benefits. The problem is that a state isn't forced to go along with the program. Only fourteen states have agreed to it, and Missouri isn't one of them.) When Coffelt went to the meeting three years ago, it all seemed very straightforward. Based on the presentations, sick workers, widows, and the children of dead Mallinckrodt employees understood that getting a check wouldn't require more than filling out a few forms.

They were wrong.

The first hurdle was proving employment at Mallinckrodt -- a problem of which company spokesperson June Fowler says she's not aware. According to former workers, the company, now a division of Tyco International Ltd., often responds to their requests by claiming that the records can no longer be found.

They're referred by the company to the federal government. And yet when workers and widows request records from the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Energy, the agency that took over the AEC, they hit a brick wall. Mallinckrodt workers who've tried to obtain records of their federal "Q" clearance -- the security clearance many had from the FBI -- also have been told that there are no such records.

"Nobody claimed me," one former worker said at a July gathering of former workers, widows and surviving children. "For fifteen years I worked there and there were no records. Mallinckrodt still doesn't claim me." For her, the only agency that could help her prove she worked at the company was the Social Security Administration. They had records showing that Mallinckrodt paid into the federal-retirement system on her behalf decades before.

Part of Coffelt's claim, for the time period from 1945 to 1948, was also initially denied because her records showed her husband worked at "Mallinckrodt Chemical Works" instead of the "Destrehan" plant. Coffelt was told she needed to specify which of the three Mallinckrodt plants her husband worked at during those three years -- even though the uranium division only operated at one plant during that period.

Proving employment at Mallinckrodt was the first hurdle; the next was proving what the worker actually did. The records don't always prove that a worker was employed by a particular division nor do they always accurately depict the job the person held.

It is difficult for the people who worked in the division 50 years ago to remember what they did, but it is almost impossible for widows and children to figure it out. And yet, the type of job the worker had is very important for reconstructing the amount of radiation he or she might have been exposed to.

A worker in the bag house, which contains high levels of toxic dust, would potentially be exposed to more radiation than a secretary working in the plant office. The higher the radiation level, the more probable it becomes that an illness or disease was caused by the work at Mallinckrodt, and the greater chance a claimant has to receive the law's benefits.

And there's another problem that people like Coffelt and Brock didn't expect: getting medical records needed to prove an illness.

Brock obtained most of her father's records, but others have discovered that the medical records they need have been destroyed. For many, old death certificates aren't helpful because they were filled out by doctors who didn't know that low-level radiation was a problem or that it was a problem at Mallinckrodt. According to Dr. Daniel W. McKeel Jr., an associate professor at Washington University, some of the workers' death certificates claim people died from a fractured finger or nerve damage to the thigh.

If medical records do exist, doctors and hospitals often quote extremely expensive copy fees, fees which Brock says are supposed to be waived under the law. But few know about the provision.

It took Brock's mother three years to get to the stage where the government was satisfied that her husband worked for Mallinckrodt and had medical records showing an illness. So last month, she received a letter saying that the government was moving her claim to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for what is called "dose reconstruction." At this stage, the government tries to calculate the amount of radiation that a worker was likely exposed to. They take into account the type of job the worker had, whether the worker was involved in any workplace accident, the kinds of material he or she handled, and radiation readings from badges the worker was asked to wear decades ago.

But before making the calculation, NIOSH told Coffelt she'd have a phone interview that would cover her husband's job duties and workplace accidents. They sent a questionnaire wanting to know what radioactive nuclides Christopher Davis was exposed to more than 43 years ago -- and whether he was exposed to liquids, solids or gases.

"How do you expect people to know that?" Brock says.

What's frustrating is that the government is asking claimants for dose-reconstruction data that it should already have. "To me it is contradictory," Brock says. "Do they or do they not have the records?"

Realizing that her mother's difficulties were shared by others, Brock organized the United Nuclear Weapons Workers of St. Louis. The organization, she hoped, would allow ex-Mallinckrodt employees to get information their former employer and government weren't sharing.

Brock's had uncanny success.

At a recent meeting of her UNWW organization, she was able to share information that other ex-Mallinckrodt workers or their survivors haven't been able to get their hands on, including badge numbers, employment dates and "Q" clearance dates. These records didn't come from any official source.

When pressed, Brock will only say she obtained the documents from a "private archive." While claims are held up because the government demands more documentation from the former Mallinckrodt workers and their survivors, it turns out that information that might easily verify who was exposed was already compiled, much of it at government expense. And key records, it turns out, may be sitting in a basement in University City.

As one of the older contractors in the nuclear program, Mallinckrodt was a frequent target for radiation studies. "Everybody recognized how heavily irradiated the workers were," says Richard Miller, the public-policy analyst.

In 1965, the Atomic Energy Commission hired Dr. Thomas Mancuso, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, to study cancer risks associated with low-level radiation. The study included Mallinckrodt's operations as well as nuclear facilities in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee and Washington state.

In 1974, while Mancuso's research was underway, Dr. Samuel Milham of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services reported incidents of cancer among workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington. Mancuso -- enlisting the help of statistician George Kneale and Dr. Alice Stewart, a respected British doctor and the first researcher to discover that radiation on pregnant women significantly increased birth defects -- turned his attention to Hanford. Mancuso's study confirmed the increased risk of cancer at Hanford, and Dr. Stewart encouraged him to let the AEC know the results before they were released. The AEC fired him.

When Congress investigated Mancuso's firing, others came forward to allege the AEC had suppressed studies that exposed dangerous conditions and pressured researchers to alter work. Although he'd been fired, Mancuso tried to finish his work on Mallinckrodt. He asked for help from Alvarez, who was then working with the Environmental Policy Institute, a public-interest environmental group. And they also enlisted the help of Kay Drey, a prominent anti-nuclear activist who lives in U. City.

Alvarez recalls that the federal government tried to take possession of Mancuso's data, but the researcher was adamant about holding on to it. The reason was clear: After Mancuso was replaced, hospital records he'd collected for the government on workers at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Gaseous Diffusion Plant were destroyed.

Alvarez's public interest group gave Mancuso funding to finish the Mallinc-krodt study, and Drey helped track down former workers. But the mammoth undertaking wasn't finished. "It had to do with resources and money," Alvarez says.

But according to several sources who've tried to get access to the records for several years, Mancuso turned his research and documentation over to Drey -- something Drey declines to confirm.

"I don't know what she has," Alvarez says, "but if she has things that could help workers prove they worked there, or worked in a given area, or might have been exposed to something, of course it would be helpful. Knowing Tom Mancuso, it would certainly be consistent with his wishes."

Richard Miller notes, "This is a narrow window in history where this program is going to operate and then it is going to go away. And no one is going to come back and re-do this because somebody decided to release information thirty years later."

Mancuso, who is now in his 90s, declined comment.


Thomas Mancuso's termination did more than unfairly damage his reputation in some circles and trigger protests from activists: It also ushered in the era of Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a not-for-profit consortium of 85 universities. According to its federal tax filing, ORAU is "principally a management and operating contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy."

According to Richard Miller, ORAU's scientists testify on the government's behalf in toxic tort lawsuits filed by workers and residents who live near nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. And its scientists lead "how to" seminars for Justice Department attorneys looking for ways to defend lawsuits.

More significantly, ORAU scientists produce research that tends to downplay the risk of low-level radiation exposure at Mallinckrodt and discount studies that link exposure to worker deaths. In a 1980 abstract, Dr. Elizabeth Ellis Dupree wrote: "To date, there is no indication that the occupational exposure to radiation has increased the cohort's mortality." Then a 1995 study, again led by Dupree, concluded that there was no dose-response relationship between lung cancer risk and radiation doses.

When Dupree did conduct a study of Mallinckrodt workers that found a high incidence of cancers, those findings remained hidden at ORAU -- until Alvarez, then working for Energy Secretary Richardson, discovered them. Dupree and ORAU, it turns out, conducted the study on Mallinckrodt workers that showed alarmingly high cancer rates among workers, and yet that research never made it into the medical journals.

Despite -- or maybe because of -- ORAU's track record of minimizing radiation's harmful effects, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health hired ORAU to do dose reconstructions to process the claims of ex-nuclear workers. "It's a conflict of interest," Brock says.

Alvarez agrees. "At issue is not the integrity of the individuals, but the integrity of the institution. ORAU is essentially owned by the Department of Energy." But he adds that there are so few researchers who have worked in this area that NIOSH might not have had much of a choice.

And NIOSH director Larry Elliott says his agency is making every effort to ensure claimants get fair treatment. For example, they can ask that their cases be analyzed by someone at NIOSH instead of at ORAU. And NIOSH also uncovered research and records that should help claimants. "We have a lot of the Mancuso data. We've actually found information that was not well-known, information we found in the health and safety lab in New York." That was Eisenbud's lab. Elliott adds that NIOSH has also discovered information in Oak Ridge.

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.

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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