Press Releases

Washington, DC – Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation designed to enable former Santa Susana Field Laboratory workers or their survivors to receive compensation for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation and other toxic substances at the former nuclear and rocket test facility.

The Santa Susana Fair Compensation Act of 2007 would amend the Energy Employee Occupational Compensation Program, approved by Congress in 1999. This earlier law provides compensation to workers who developed serious illnesses as a result of working for the Department of Energy.

Since 2000, hundreds of former Santa Susana workers or their survivors have applied for benefits – mostly for cancers caused by exposure to radiation and other toxics. But only a few dozen claims have been granted. Out of 677 claims filed, only 56 have been paid, according to news reports.

The law requires workers or survivors to show that at least 50 percent of the claimed illnesses are attributable to workplace exposure. This is virtually impossible in the cases of many former Santa Susana workers because of inadequate record-keeping at the facility.

The legislation introduced by Senators Feinstein and Boxer would ensure that Santa Susana workers or their survivors are able to receive benefits under the Energy Employee Occupational Compensation Program; allow for benefits up to $250,000; and allow Santa Susana workers or their survivors, who have previously been denied benefits, to reapply for compensation and medical benefits.

“The people who worked at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory worked in the service of the nation during the Cold War. Tragically, many were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and other toxic substances. Record-keeping was shoddy or nonexistent in many of these cases, leaving these workers – or their survivors – without the documentation required by law to receive compensation and medical benefits. The Santa Susana Fair Compensation Act will correct this unfortunate situation,” Senator Feinstein said.

Senator Boxer said, “This important legislation would give Santa Susana Field Laboratory workers and their families a fair shot at obtaining compensation and medical benefits for illnesses caused by working at the facility. For too long, bureaucracy and red tape has stood in the way of these people getting the help they need and deserve. I look forward to working with my colleague Senator Feinstein to see that these workers and their families see some justice.”

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory, located about 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, was founded in the 1940s. During the Cold War, it was used for the development and testing of nuclear reactors and powerful rockets, including those used in America’s space and ballistic missile programs.

Over the years, Santa Susana was the site of numerous accidents, including fires that exposed workers to dangerous levels of radiation, and a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1959.

There is widespread contamination at Santa Susana, and the Department of Energy is under a federal court order to conduct an in-depth environmental study before it can transfer or relinquish control of the site.

The Santa Susana Fair Compensation Act of 2007 would:

  • Amend Section 3621 of the Energy Employees Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, to treat employees of Santa Susana Field Laboratory as members of the “Special Exposure Cohort” for purposes of qualifying for the Compensation Program;
  • Make individuals eligible for benefits if they worked at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory for at least 250 days and developed a serious illness known to be a result of exposure to radiation or other toxins at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory before January 1, 2006;
  • Provide lump sum payments of at least $150,000 to employees who contracted specific cancers from exposure to radiation, and up to $250,000 to employees exposed to toxic chemicals before January 1, 2006; and
  • Allow previously denied Santa Susana Field Laboratory claimants under the Energy Employees Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 the opportunity to reapply for compensation and medical benefits.

Similar legislation (HR 2243) has been introduced in the House by Representative Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.).

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