Senator Murray Introduces New Bill To Help Hanford Workers Access Care for Beryllium Exposure

The Beryllium Testing Fairness Act would amend the law to be in line with the latest science and count three “borderline” results as evidence to receive a diagnosis of beryllium sensitivity and allow more people to access care

Senator Murray: “The Beryllium Testing Fairness Act will expand access to care for diseases caused by beryllium exposure, ensuring that more workers who are facing health issues can get the benefits they need and deserve.”

ICYMI: Senator Murray Secures Major Increase in President’s Budget Request for Hanford Cleanup, Continues to Push on Federal Commitment – MORE HERE

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Beryllium Testing Fairness Act, new legislation that will help more Hanford workers and nuclear weapons complex workers across the country—both past and present—access care for diseases caused by beryllium exposure.

Currently, federal laws place overly burdensome proof of illness requirement on nuclear weapons complex workers, preventing many workers from getting the care they need for diseases caused by beryllium exposure. Senator Murray’s bill would update these testing requirements consistent with the latest science to ensure that more workers dealing with health issues caused by beryllium exposure receive the benefits they need and deserve.

“Hanford workers are doing important work every single day at the Hanford site—and it’s absolutely unacceptable that any of them would be denied the care they need for beryllium exposure just because the current is based on outdated science. But right now, that’s the painful reality for too many workers—and I’m determined to make this right,” said Senator Murray. “The Beryllium Testing Fairness Act will expand access to care for diseases caused by beryllium exposure, ensuring that more workers who are facing health issues can get the benefits they need and deserve. This bill is critically important to the health and well-being of workers at Hanford and across the country, so I’m committed to getting it across the finish line as soon as possible.”

“For nearly thirteen years I’ve worked at Hanford and I’m very proud of the important work we do. One of the hazards workers face at Hanford is exposure to the toxic metal beryllium. Because of this risk my blood was drawn for a test – the beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test – and received three borderline results, which medical experts on beryllium consider beryllium sensitization,” said Aaron Burt, Hanford worker.  “Two years later, my doctor found a granuloma in my lungs and diagnosed me with chronic beryllium disease. Despite a diagnosis by my doctors of beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease, I have not received federal benefits for either condition under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA). Senator Murray’s legislation would change that and I strongly support the Beryllium Testing Fairness Act. I don’t want any other worker to have to deal with the frustration I have had of dealing not only with a medical disease but also being denied the benefits we deserve.”

“For years now, research studies conducted by National Jewish Health and others have shown that three borderline beryllium lymphocyte proliferation tests (BeLPTs) confirms a diagnosis of beryllium sensitization and indicates a risk for developing chronic beryllium disease,” said Dr. Lisa Maier, Chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish Health. “These individuals have been exposed to beryllium as they’ve worked to protect our nation’s security. We are extremely grateful that Senator Murray and others are working to forward this important legislation to help get appropriate care and compensation to those impacted workers.”

“Occupational exposure to beryllium is a serious threat to workers, including those involved in the production and cleanup of our nation’s nuclear weapons. Fortunately, these workers can receive medical care and benefits through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA). The BeLPT is a test that detects whether workers have developed beryllium sensitization, which puts them at risk for developing chronic beryllium disease (CBD),” said Dr. Lee Newman, beryllium disease expert and Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado. “I strongly support Senator Murray’s legislation, which reflects our updated medical and scientific understanding that EEOICPA’s definition of BeLPT should be updated. CBD is a serious disease with no cure, but early detection can help slow its progression. This legislation will help workers receive the timely care they deserve.”

“Workplace exposure to toxic substances for workers is deeply personal to me. My personal experience with beryllium exposure, my background as an advocate and workforce representative, allows me to help minimize exposures for all workers,” said Calin Tebay, worker and health advocate. “This also allows me to help current and former workers, and their families, get access, education, and care they deserve. For nearly 12 years, I have worked with colleagues and medical professionals across the country with a shared goal of creating consistent, accurate, and up to date diagnosis criteria for beryllium-related disease and conditions. Updating the Department of Labor’s diagnosis criteria for beryllium sensitization to ensure workers exposed to this toxic metal and diagnosed with this condition, can and will receive the care they need. I strongly support the Beryllium Testing Fairness Act and appreciate Senator Murray for listening to and working with the Hanford workers, medical experts, and many others and taking on this important issue.” 

“I began working at Hanford in the early ‘70s and spent nearly my entire career at the Hanford site. As a quality control engineer, I worked all over the site, inspecting work to ensure it was done up to standard. What we didn’t know at the time were the risks that workers faced from substances like beryllium,” said Charles Towne, retired Hanford worker.  “I received borderline test results on the beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT). Luckily, I continued to receive medical monitoring for progression to chronic beryllium disease, but I know not all workers with borderline test results are as fortunate as I am. My doctors would later diagnose me with chronic beryllium disease. I support Senator Murray’s bill to ensure current and former workers at sites like Hanford and around the country receive the benefits and medical care they deserve and need.”

For decades, beryllium was used to cap nuclear fuel rods, including at the Hanford site. Beryllium is a toxic metal and exposure can cause “beryllium sensitization,” an immune response that puts one at risk of developing the lung disease Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD). In advanced forms, CBD can lead to scarring of the lungs and is incurable. While no cure currently exists for CBD, early treatment can help slow the development of the disease.  Currently, the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) administers the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA), through which Hanford workers dealing with issues stemming from their exposure to beryllium receive care and benefits.

As the law is currently written, someone must present one abnormal blood beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT) as evidence of beryllium sensitization to obtain medical monitoring benefits for progression to chronic beryllium disease. An abnormal BeLPt blood test and evidence of lung disease is needed as evidence of chronic beryllium disease in order to receive benefits and care for this illness through the EEOICPA. Many workers or former workers, however, receive “borderline” test results for years while they begin to develop CBD and may never get the “abnormal” result at all. Despite evolving science on the relationship between borderline test results and beryllium sensitization, the law does not address borderline test results. The Beryllium Testing Fairness Act would amend the EEOICPA to count three “borderline” results as evidence to receive a diagnosis of beryllium sensitivity. This provision would apply to former, current, and future workers so no one would face unfair barriers to care. This expanded definition for beryllium sensitivity is based on updated medical and scientific understanding of BeLPT, beryllium sensitization and CBD. The expanded definition has already been adopted by federal OSHA, Washington state Labor and Industries, and National Jewish Hospital in Denver – the latter considered among the foremost experts in the world in BeLPT and diagnosis and treatment of CBD. DOL’s independent Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health has also called for this change.

The Beryllium Testing Fairness Act would also extend the Department of Labor’s Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health for five more years, through 2029. The Board is charged with advising the Secretary of Labor on matters relating to workplace safety for workers onsite with toxic substances and is instrumental in helping improve the federal compensation process for workers, including those at Hanford, to gain the health care and benefits they deserve. This legislation is supported by the Hanford Worker Engagement Center, American Thoracic Society, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, National Jewish Health, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, and the Center for Health, Work & Environment, Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado.

Senator Murray has led the fight in Congress to secure funding for the cleanup at the Hanford, protect workers, and support the Tri-Cities communities. Earlier this summer, she secured an unprecedented increase in President Biden’s budget request for Hanford site cleanup, putting that request at $2.613 billion for FY2023. 

In the FY2022 government funding package, Senator Murray secured $2.595 billion for the Hanford site cleanup—notably, this was $128 million above the President’s Budget Request. As she negotiates funding for the fiscal 2023 budget, Senator Murray is fighting to build on the previous budget’s funding and the increased request by the President will be critical as she seeks to secure the strongest possible funding for the Hanford site cleanup. The President’s revised budget request came only after Murray’s strong urging and public exchanges with Secretary Granholm and OMB Budget Director Shalanda Young.

In March 2021, Senator Murray reintroduced and is currently fighting to pass the Toxic Exposure Safety Act which would make it easier for workers at the Hanford site and other nuclear clean-up sites to receive the full benefits they’re entitled to when suffering from illnesses due to toxic exposure on the job.

Find a one pager of the bill here.

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