Wednesday, June 18, 2014

EDITORIAL: Justice Can't Wait - U.S. needs to own responsibility for Agent Orange
Years after a long, arduous battle resolved, the U.S. Department of Labor is finally compensating and covering medical expenses for people who worked at the former Chapman Valve Manufacturing Co. in Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood.
In fact, it’s now seeking workers who may be eligible for the funds.
That’s not the case for former Air Force personnel at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee who worked on planes that became contaminated with Agent Orange. They are still seeking recognition and compensation for the illnesses they have developed as a direct result. The U.S. government has made virtually no admission of the health threat the contaminated planes posed to those exposed to them.
Chapman Valve workers who have developed cancer or chronic beryllium disease are eligible for $150,000, plus medical expenses. The program has received 442 applications from heirs and employees of Chapman Valve. Thus far, just 82 workers have been compensated a total of $6.9 million. It would be both kind and prudent to fast-track applications from those who were directly exposed.
Chapman Valve Manufacturing Co. supplied valves to Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1948, Chapman machined uranium rods into slugs for reactor fuel at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1949, Chapman may have also conducted rolling operations on uranium metal.
This compensation took years of effort on the part of former workers who developed illness as a direct result to exposure to dangerous chemicals. For many it’s too little and too late.
Why it takes the federal government so long to admit the truth of its dangerous practices and to compensate those whose lives have been sacrificed for them is mind-boggling. Perhaps there’s method to this madness: By ignoring the problem, it will go away.
Meanwhile, Air Force personnel who never went to Vietnam but were nonetheless exposed to Agent Orange through work on planes at Westover Air Reserve Base are still waiting.
The time is short. Justice can’t wait.

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