As an interviewer and outreach manager with the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program, Walter Smith always starts out with one question: "Do you think your health was affected by your work at the Department of Energy site?" There are three possible answers: Yes, no and maybe.
"If you walked into that DOE site and you know you were healthy, then there's always that possibility that you could have gotten polluted," Smith says.
Since 2001, the government has offered monetary compensation and to pay the medical bills of anyone who might have gotten sick from working at Honeywell or any other DOE site. An amendment to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program was signed by the president in 2004 to add Part E to the EEOICP, so that people who worked for contractors at DOE sites (an independent electric company, for example) could be eligible for compensation as well.
Marlon Smith is one such worker. He was a roofer for Schreiber, a company hired to repair Honeywell's roof on two separate projects, one in 2001, and again in 2005. He remembers wearing only a dust mask while standing yards away from employees who were fully suited with respirators. As they cut into the old roof, Marlon says, "I asked the foreman, I say, 'Hey, where's [my respirator]?' He says, 'Oh, it ain't toxic enough.'"
The roofers watched a film about safety before getting on Honeywell's roof, Marlon says. "The class was good, but ... on the roof, it's a different story. You get put in positions where you know it's not right to do this, but the bossman says 'do it,' and it's either that or not have a job."
Marlon is now seeking compensation through Part E of the EEOICP. Workers who are suffering from cancer, berylliosis, silicosis or a variety of other occupation-related illnesses are eligible for $150,000. Marlon says, "Since 2005, I've just not been feeling myself. I called Walter about the screening, and I did the screening. Some days I feel good, some days I don't." He asked that The Pitch not reveal his diagnosis.
Marlon is a rare example -- not because he's sick, but because he's been screened. Smith has been doing his best to encourage tradesmen to set up a free health screening at the University of Kansas Medical Center, but despite the notices he's had printed in newspapers like the Call and the Labor Beacon, the turnout is low. He estimates he's only processed one or two percent of the the
15,000 people he estimates have worked as contractors at Honeywell.
People are reluctant to get tested, Smith has found. "I don't want to know is
a lot of answers," Smith says.
The job takes a toll on Smith, too. "People call up and give me privelaged information," he says. By way of example, he imitates a recent call. "Hey, hi, I just thought I'd ask, I have two kids. I had the first one, then I had eight miscarriages, and then I had the second one." Smith switches back to his own voice, sighing. "I'm going, wow. That's toxic. That's toxic."
If you worked at the Kansas City Plant as a tradesman and would like to know if you qualify for a medical screening, contact Walter Smith and the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program at 816-333-3020 or toll-free at 1-800-866-9663.
If you worked as a Bendix, AlliedSignal or Honeywell employee and wish to learn more about the EEOICP, follow this link.