by John Ned Lipsitz

Since 1995, our office has represented Mrs. Eleanor Tornabene, whose husband, Samuel W. Tornabene, was a former worker at the Linde Air Products facility in Tonawanda, New York. Mrs. Tornabene has given us permission to reprint the text of a letter I recently sent on her behalf to Congressman LaFalce:

“I am writing to you in support of the Nuclear Workers’ Compensation Amendment as it was recently adopted by unanimous consent in the Senate in the Defense Authorization Act. I understand that this amendment is on its way to Conference. This legislation is a crucial step in redressing injustices committed against men and women who worked in our weapons and related industries since the Second World War. The Linde Air Products facility in Tonawanda, New York is among those facilities that would be included under the amendment as an atomic weapons facility. As you may be aware, the Linde site was part of the Manhattan Project during World War II and a great deal of the uranium used in the atomic bomb was processed at the Linde site. Unfortunately, the radioactive waste resulting from the processing of uranium was never properly remediated, and generations of workers following the Second World War have been exposed unnecessarily and without their knowledge to excessive levels of radioactive dust.

“A series of site studies conducted between the mid-1970’s and the mid-1990’s confirmed and reconfirmed the existence of excessive levels of alpha-emitting dust particles at the Linde site. In 1993, I undertook representation of an individual and his family affected by these tragic circumstances. Samuel W. Tornabene was employed as a maintenance worker at the Linde site from the early 1960’s through the 1990’s. He died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma on December 17, 1993 at the age of 58. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of many years, Eleanor J. Tornabene, and several children, among whom were dependent minors. We filed a case in the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board for the Tornabene family in 1994. After approximately five years of litigation involving nearly a dozen witnesses, including doctors and other scientists, the Workers’ Compensation Board denied the claim, essentially finding that Mr. Tornabene’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma was more than likely not related to his exposure to radioactive materials at the Linde site. This decision was reached despite the fact that Mr. Tornabene’s medical history was devoid of any other known risk factor for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

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“During the course of the many sessions at the Workers’ Compensation Board, we developed Mr. Tornabene’s work history at the Linde facility in great detail. There was extensive testimony, for example, concerning a period of approximately six months in the mid-1960’s when he was involved in destructive activities concerning a concrete floor that registered high levels of radioactive alpha-emitting dust particles. Mr. Tornabene was required to jack-hammer that floor in order to break it up so that heavy equipment could be moved. Mr. Tornabene eventually developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma and eventually died of that condition. Like the other workers at the Linde facility, he was never warned that he was being subjected to excessive levels of radioactive material. His employer, Union Carbide, never warned him. The successor employer, Praxair, never warned him. The United States government never warned him. In fact, the employer in this case against whom the claim was filed, Praxair, almost certainly spent more than $100,000.00 to disprove the relationship between exposure to alpha-emitting dust particles and the development of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“The proposed legislation provides compensation for nuclear workers who have developed certain “specified radiogenic cancers.” One of the specified radiogenic cancers listed in the legislation is, in fact, non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Thus is appears that the employer in the Tornabene case paid a large sum of money in order to disprove a scientific conclusion now reached by the United States government after extensive research and investigation at the federal level. According to the proposed legislation, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a relatively rare cancer, the incidence of which is on the rise, may be caused by excessive levels of radioactive dust and is a ‘specified radiogenic cancer.’

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“I strongly and sincerely recommend your earnest consideration of the Nuclear Workers’ Compensation Amendment. With such legislation in place, Mrs. Tornabene, and others like her, may yet have a chance to receive compensation for the loss of loved ones who died working at sites deemed of special importance to the national security. Tragically, as we are now all too well aware, these workers were often treated as guinea pigs and were never warned of the dangers inherent in their work.”