Cantwell wants more money to screen ill Hanford workers

By:  Annette Cary
HANFORD ? A program to screen former workers at Hanford and other Department of Energy nuclear weapons sites for work-related illnesses is underfunded, according to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Funding needs to be increased from $18.6 million to $25 million a year to screen or rescreen all the former workers who contact the program, she wrote the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

"It is absolutely crucial we fully fund this important program so that every single Department of Energy nuclear weapons worker has the option to access free health screenings for work-related illnesses," Cantwell said in a statement. "Early detection of illnesses can save lives."

Since the program was established by Congress in 1993, it has attempted to contact about 360,000 of an estimated 600,000 workers who are eligible, she said.

More than 107,000 responded, but just 60,000 workers have had initial screenings, including about 6,800 former Hanford workers. Of all the workers screened nationwide only 8,600 -- including about 1,250 at Hanford -- have had follow-up screenings.

"Without this increase in funding, the program cannot conduct the needed rescreenings that should be done every three years," Cantwell wrote. "At the current level of funding, the program is only fulfilling its responsibility for initial screenings."

The program screens for a number of conditions, including chronic respiratory diseases, hearing loss, liver and kidney problems and some forms of cancer.

Initial screenings have identified more than  6,500 cases of asbestos-related lung diseases and many other work-related conditions, Cantwell said.

"Without the Worker Health Protection Program, my lung cancer would not have been found until it was too far advanced," Christopher Brown, a former worker at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear site, was quoted as saying in the recently released annual report for the Former Worker Medical Screening Program. "The CT scan revealed a lung nodule that turned out to be an early lung cancer."

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