Decades later, nuclear workers' families compensated

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, July 2, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

It took eight years of finding paperwork and waiting on government reviews, but Helen Sobotka, 68, of Springdale got a lump-sum, tax-free payment from the federal government for $150,000.

The government paid the money, which went to her late mother, because her father, Paul "Shorty" Pastierik, died of lung cancer that likely was caused by his work around nuclear weapon components at the former C.H. Schnorr Co. in Springdale.

He was a machinist there from about 1935 to 1954.

Like many workers, Pastierik didn't know about the dangers of radiation exposure.

The Department of Labor recently sent fliers alerting Springdale residents to the compensation program.

"They do these mailings regularly in many areas," said Jesse Lawder, a Labor Department spokesman.

C.H. Schnorr provided metal fabrication services for the Manhattan Project -- which produced the United States' atomic bombs during World War II -- and machined uranium for the nuclear reactors at the government's Hanford nuclear research site.

Workers for Schnorr and its successor companies, Conviber, Premier Manufacturing from 1943 to 1994, might be eligible for a $150,000 lump sum, medical expense reimbursement from the federal government if they meet eligibility criteria and have one of 22 cancers or beryllium disease.

Survivors can get benefit

The federal government established the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) program more than a decade ago to pay sick former workers of atomic weapons employers $150,000 and provide coverage of related medical expenses.

A number of businesses, including steel mills, nuclear fuel-processing plants and small manufacturing shops such as C.H. Schnorr, were subcontracted by the federal government to develop and produce the components for nuclear weapons.

The program has paid more than $8 billion to claimants nationwide so far, according to the EEOICPA website.

"I think this is great," Sobotka said.

"Even those guys who are dead -- their families can go after this money," she said. "There is no time limitation."

So far, the EEOICPA program has paid five workers or their families $750,000 from the Schnorr Co.

In the Alle-Kiski Valley, the employees most frequently receiving the money worked at the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) and its successors, with a total payout plus medical expense of more than $40 million.

According to Springdale Councilman John Molnar, there are few Schnorr workers still around.

C.H. Schnorr was named after Charles Schnorr who started the company, a small tool-and-die shop, in the late 1930s at 643 Railroad St. -- an address that was later changed to 644 Garfield St.

Schnorr was part of the "Little Businessmen's Congress" convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 and his company grew from there, according to "The History of Springdale, Pennsylvania," published in 2006.

The company helped tool the B-19 and B-26 aircraft at the outbreak of World War II.

During the peak of the war, Schnorr employed about 400 people.

The Schnorr site was cleaned up in 1994 by the Department of Energy after the agency found elevated radiation levels "over a small area" inside the building where uranium was machined, according to the DOE's Legacy Management Department.

Independent surveys detected no residual contamination and the DOE has released the site for unrestricted use.

Cash, benefits paid out

Former workers from these nuclear weapon vendor facilities during the time periods listed could be eligible for federal benefits:

• Aluminum Research Laboratories, New Kensington Works of Alcoa; 1944-1945 ($2.4 million paid out so far).

• C.H. Schnorr, Conviber, Premier Manufacturing; Springdale; 1943-1951; residual radiation 1952-1993; DOE 1994. ($750,000)

• Carnegie Institute of Technology; Pittsburgh; 1942-1946 ($300,300)

• Heppenstall Co., Tippins Inc.; 1955; residual radiation 1956-1989. ($302,000)

• Koppers Co., Inc.; Verona; 1956-1957; residual radiation 1958-1996. ($453,000)

• Nuclear Material and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC), Atlantic Richfield Co., Babcock & Wilcox; Apollo; 1957-1983; residual radiation 1984-1995 (more than $30 million), and Parks Township; 1957-1980; residual radiation 1981-2004 ($9.6 million).

• Shippingport Atomic Power Plant, Shippingport; 1984-1995. ($1.45 million)

• U.S. Steel Co., National Tube Division, McKeesport; 1959-1960. ($1.6 million)

• Westinghouse Atomic Power Development Plant, East Pittsburgh Plant; 1942-1944. ($6.5 million)

• Westinghouse Nuclear Fuels Division, Westinghouse Commercial Manufacturing; Cheswick; 1971-1972; residual radiation 1973-1979. ($2.1 million)

For more information

• Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program help line: 1-800-941-3943.

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