Haunted past

The Union Carbide concealed information about radiation levels in a uranium plant for 20 years. Murky details are coming to light now

Published: Monday 31 January 2000

for over 20 years, the Paducah uranium processing plant in Kentucky, usa, hid information about radiation levels in the factory from its staff. This was despite the fact that its employees used to collapse on the factory floor or suffered from serious ailments, including leukaemia. These findings have come to light after a four-month investigation by the Washington Post.

The 48-year-old plant was operated by the Union Carbide Corporation on behalf of the government. The company has tried to wash its hands off this controversy by not commenting on the charges and saying that its Paducah managers have long left.

The investigation concluded that the workers were unwittingly exposed to highly radioactive plutonium and neptunium between the 1950s and the 1970s. Some 211 workers, about 13 per cent of the plant's workforce, were suffering from leukaemia. A factory doctor says that on one occasion, a worker Charlie Freeman, who was afflicted with a rare bone disease, collapsed on the factory floor. Another two workers have also died after suffering from leukaemia.

"It is imperative that we learn as soon as possible the extent, nature and type of radiation to which these people were exposed," the doctor told the officials of the plant. But the response he got from the factory authorities was that there has been "no significant internal exposure". The investigation revealed that an internal company memo had said that Freeman had tested positive to the radioactive uranium and was restricted from working around the plant.

Meanwhile, Bill Richardson, us energy secretary, has apologised for the failure to disclose the plant hazards and has promised compensation to the affected staff.

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