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Questions to and answers from LANL

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As it reported the Chad Walde story, The New Mexican asked Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark numerous questions about worker health and safety. Here are the lab’s responses in full:

The New Mexican: The petition to the Department of Labor states that lab had been inconsistent in recording radiation exposure, particularly for “support services” workers, especially during night or weekend shifts and incidents like the Cerro Grande fire. Please comment.

Roark: Radiation exposure has been consistently recorded at the Laboratory over many decades. All workers, including support services, subcontractors and visitors are required to wear radiation dosimetry measuring devices depending on the area they enter and the work they perform.

The New Mexican: Workers said it has been difficult to obtain records from the lab regarding specific radiation or chemical exposures. When records were requested, workers said they were told records didn’t exist or couldn’t be found. Why would this occur?

Roark: Radiation exposure records are kept both in hard copy and electronically, and they are readily accessible. Both current and former workers can obtain their records through an established request process by sending an e-mail to: dosimetry_records@lanl.gov. In addition, the Department of Energy’s Radiation Exposure Monitoring System (REMS) database contains complete worker dose results for all Department of Energy regulated facilities nationwide.

The New Mexican: The petition states records related to exposures have been destroyed (by natural issues within buildings, decay, or deliberately), withheld or don’t exist because of inconsistent monitoring documentation. Some say regular health monitoring and physicals were not conducted regularly or failed to include all the workers who should have been monitored for radiation.

Roark: No exposure records have been destroyed. Our complete exposure history has been provided to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in support of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). A storage facility received some water damage in the past that might have affected some Occupational Safety and Health records, but not radiation exposure records.

The New Mexican: Please comment on what the lab has done to ensure a full archive of all worker radiation and chemical exposure records between 1996 and 2005, as require by the Radiation Protection Program? Is the lab aware of times when it was not compliant with the program regulations during this period?

Roark: The Laboratory maintains a comprehensive archive of worker radiation dosimetry data from the start of operations in 1943 to present. During that time frame, records related to chemical exposures were maintained by a subcontractor, and are also available.

The New Mexican: A worker said there had not been consistent oversight and training to ensure workers were wearing radiation detection or protective equipment at all times, between 1996 and 2005, which potentially contributed to illness.

Roark: The Laboratory has always maintained a compliant Radiation Protection Program which includes requirements for dosimetry, protective equipment, and training based on areas to be entered and work to be performed.

The New Mexican: Some stated they had been told, in early 2000 and during the Cerro Grande fire, to take off their dosimeters so the badges wouldn’t get contaminated. Please comment.

Roark: The Laboratory’s Radiation Protection Program would never allow, endorse or recommend removing dosimeters to avoid contamination.

The New Mexican: Some lab workers said that they worked in a number of contaminated sites, with chemicals, radiation, or beryllium exposures possible, and which require specific training, but between 1996 and 2005, training or precautions for entering those areas did not always occur and the lab “didn’t care.” What has the lab done to ensure proper training for all sites during this period or correct incidents where workers were allowed in sites without proper training?

Roark: The Laboratory has always maintained a compliant Radiation Protection Program and Occupational Safety and Health Program that include requirements for training and other precautions based on areas to be entered and work to be performed.

The New Mexican: In 2005, when americium contamination was discovered at TA-3, the petition states that only security guards working on the day the contamination was discovered were tested for possible exposures. Was this the case?

Roark: No, the Laboratory’s response to the 2005 americium event was comprehensive and deliberate, including tracking the source of contamination, how it was spread, where it was spread, and what individuals were impacted.

The New Mexican: In your response, you state that the laboratory has “always maintained a compliant Radiation Protection Program.” But between 1996 and 2005, alone, the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration issued eight notices of violation related to Los Alamos’s nuclear safety or radiation protection program, six of which specifically mentioned violations of 10 CFR 835 and listed problems with radio logical monitoring that led to worker exposures. I want to give you the opportunity to respond to the worker and DOE allegations of incompliance with radiation protection and worker safety at Los Alamos

Roark: The Laboratory’s Radiation Protection Program has been in compliance with DOE regulations throughout our history. Six isolated violations over roughly a decade do not amount to a non-compliant program. The Radiation Protection Program requires federal government approval and the Laboratory has and continues to operate under an approved program.

Questions specifically related to Chad Walde

The New Mexican:

1. Mr. Walde said that in the weeks after the Cerro Grande fire he worked throughout the laboratory cleaning up clogged air quality monitors and smoke detectors. He said he did not have a radiation badge, nor did other people he worked with, and that he had not undergone radiation training at this time. He believes he may have been exposed to particles in the air during this work. His dosimetry report from the laboratory confirm that he was not monitored for radiation exposure until 2001. Others workers at the lab in and around the time of the fire have made similar allegations about not being monitored. How does the lab respond to both Mr. Walde’s claims specifically and those of others, more generally?

2. Chad Walde, his father-in-law and two of his friends recalled an incident, around 2008, when Mr. Walde was called into a meeting with his supervisors and reprimanded for a high radiation reading on his dosimetry report that month. Mr. Walde said he was asked by supervisors where he had been and if he had taken his badge through an x-ray machine at the airport or to the dentist’s office. Mr. Walde said he had not. His father-in-law and friends also remembered Walde telling them about this incident and the lab’s questioning of him. Los Alamos’ dosimetry records for Mr. Walde show he received between a 131 and 153 millirem dose that year. But there is no record of any kind of reprimand in the personnel file requested by his wife. There is also no indication that his health was additionally monitored this year in his medical file from the laboratory. How does Los Alamos respond to this? Was Mr. Walde called in by supervisors regarding a high reading in or around 2008? Was he reprimanded? If so, why? If not, how does this square with multiple accounts shared with me?

More broadly, what is the laboratory’s procedure for dealing with a situation when a worker receives an unexpected dose? How does the laboratory deal with a situation in which a worker has violated safety procedures?

3. One of Mr. Walde’s friends, who also works at a DOE laboratory, remembers that he and Chad used to regularly compare their monthly radiation reports and that Chad’s was always higher than his. Mr. Walde said when he requested his radiation report in 2015, the records did not match his memory of what his monthly reports had shown. Mr. Walde’s radiation report from the laboratory shows he was exposed to “zero” radiation for 11 years, and was exposed to small amounts of radiation in just three other years, but the doses were very low. He said what had been in his monthly reports were missing from the final report he saw in 2015. What is the lab’s response to this?

4. Angela Walde remembers an incident, also around 2007 or 2008, when her husband came home dressed in a disposable clothing and told her he had to be decontaminated. The records the family requested from Los Alamos show no record of this event. How does Los Alamos respond to this? Are the records incomplete?

5. Mr. Walde said that after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014, and returned to work in January 2015, he was offered to take a lower-level job. His alternative would have been termination. Is this the policy? And if so, is termination the only option for an employee who doesn’t or can’t take another position?

6. Angela Walde says she believes that if her husband had not worked at Los Alamos, he would still be alive and the job was the factor that altered his health. How does the lab respond?

7. How many lab employees have died of glioblastoma in each of the last five years? Does the lab believe it has a high incidence of brain cancer among employees or former employees?

8. Does the lab keep records on cause of death for employees? If not, why not, given that many employees work with and around dangerous materials?

9. Angela Walde has been denied benefits related to Chad’s work at the lab? Should she be entitled to them?

10. Chad Walde said five or six members of his roughly 22-person crew developed cancer. He said many blame their work at the lab for the cancer. Once an employee is diagnosed with a serious illness, does the lab track the health records of those who are on the same team(s)? If not, would such records help the lab better identify danger and potential improvements for worker safety?

Lab Response

When an employee files a claim under the Department of Labor’s Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, the Laboratory provides any and all records in response to requests as quickly as possible.

The Lab takes employee health and safety very seriously, which is why all employees who operate in areas with a potential exposure risk are required to wear dosimeters. The Laboratory and its Radiation Protection Program pay close attention to these results; when an employee reports a higher than expected dosimeter reading, an investigation is initiated, and the source of exposure is resolved and corrected as necessary.

It is the Lab’s goal to treat all employees who suffer from a debilitating condition or disability with the utmost respect. In addition to following all legal requirements, including the American’s With Disabilities Act, the Laboratory has generous medical leave and disability policies. When an employee is unable to perform the essential conditions of their job, the Laboratory makes reasonable efforts to accommodate them, which sometimes results in the employee being reassigned to a different job.

The Laboratory is not an organization that is officially informed of causes of death and has no legal right to such information. As such, we would have no way of maintaining a registry of such information regarding former employees.

Multiple studies of the Laboratory and Los Alamos community have concluded that there is no evidence of cancer clusters in connection to the Laboratory.

Do you work or have you worked at Los Alamos? We’d like to hear from you. Email rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.

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