New help for former test site workers

Between 1951 and 1992, 928 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests took place in Nevada. Thousands of workers were exposed to radiation and other toxins when they re-entered tunnels soon after those blasts.

Former test site miner Oscar Foger, 70, reports he and co-workers used rags instead of respirators to keep from inhaling dust laced with toxic substances or radioactive particles while they worked inside the tunnels. Mr. Foger reports he's been awarded $250,000 in compensation for medical conditions that included a cancerous kidney.

On Wednesday, Glenn Podonsky of the Department of Energy announced the availability of a new program here, 12 years after the DOE first rolled out the technique to help ex-employees at other sites.

At least 2,500 former test site workers have been identified as eligible for the lung cancer early detection protocol known as low-dose computed tomography - the CT scan.

Dr. Lewis Pepper, co-director of the Nevada screening program, said those who can now be helped in Nevada will largely be in their late 60s, or older. Despite their ages, however, many former workers exposed to agents such as radiation, silica, asbestos and beryllium can still be helped by the low-dose CT scans and treatment, he said.

Congress first allocated funds for the early testing of former workers at DOE sites in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, 12 years ago, on the theory that those workers were at a higher risk for cancer because they worked at facilities where highly enriched uranium was produced for military uses.

Surely the stuff that got blown up in Nevada was at least equally enriched.

Many ran a higher risk - and in some cases paid a higher price - in their country's service in the Cold War than was initially realized. Proper help has been a long time coming. But now that it's here, those eligible should strongly consider availing themselves of this new diagnostic tool.

The new screening is available to former test site workers who meet predetermined work, age and smoking criteria. Former employees may call (866) 228-7226 for more information.