Page 3 of 7
Roberts left the plant in '73, having witnessed several layoffs. He wanted job security, which he got as a laborer with Missouri Gas Energy. He worked for the utility company for 28 years.
Back and knee pain forced Roberts to leave MGE on disability. Then, two years ago, doctors at Menorah Medical Center discovered that he had chronic lymphomic leukemia. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy. For the moment, no further treatment is necessary. He's optimistic but too cautious to describe his cancer as being in remission.
A brother-in-law of Roberts who worked at the Kansas City Plant also was diagnosed with cancer. "Before I knew it, he was gone," Roberts says. The EEOICP offers compensation for surviving family members of energy workers who have died from work-related complications, but the Department of Labor determined that Roberts' sister and her son weren't eligible for compensation.
Roberts' wife's medical insurance has covered his medical bills so far. "I've never gotten anything from Bendix or AlliedSignal or any union," he says.
More than 10 years ago, Roberts estimates, he got a letter in the mail about the Department of Labor's health screenings. But when he went looking for the lab in North Kansas City, he couldn't find it. "I believe they closed up shop," he says. "It's been kind of strange, the way this stuff has been handled, because they never stayed with it, you know? It's been handled very poorly."
It was Ivory Mae Thomas' job to clean the X-ray room at the Kansas City Plant. She was hired in 1979. Every day, she emptied the trash cans, swept, mopped, buffed and dusted inside the white-walled room, which contained two X-ray machines strong enough to penetrate dense metal.
One night in 1995, at the end of her 3 p.m.-midnight shift, plant supervisors caught up with Thomas in a motorized cart and told her to get in. "Someone discovered that some of the radiation got loose, and I was stepping all in it," the 82-year-old tells The Pitch.
Thomas was whisked to an emergency shower room, where she was stripped of her apron, socks and shoes and directed to wash her hands with special soap. That same night, she says, a plant cleaning crew went to her home. Workers were also sent to clean the interior of a car belonging to a co-worker with whom she rode to the plant every day.
At work the next day, Thomas was told only that she had been exposed to radiation — she wasn't told how much. The plant's medical staff checked her over once more and told her that she was fine.
But Thomas didn't feel fine for very much longer. "I ain't going to say that the radiation caused it," she says, "but since I stepped in it, I ain't been no good."
She got winded easily. "It got to where I had to take the elevator just to go from one floor to another. I couldn't buff no more. Before I stepped in it, I was doing all right," Thomas says. On her doctor's advice, Thomas retired in 1997. She was disappointed to have to retire two years short of her 20-year mark.
Doctors discovered a tumor between her heart and one of her lungs. She doesn't remember the year. In surgery, she had part of one lung removed, and complications required the installation of a pacemaker. The tumor was benign.