Answer to Question #12223 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
Could working at Hanford in Buildings 300 and 303 (where the bombs were made) from January 1944 to August 1945, and then working at the Berkeley Radiation Lab (now Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL], where radiation experiments were carried out) from November 1945 to June 1948 cause a glioblastoma?
I am asking because my grandfather worked at Hanford and LBNL from 1944 to 1948. He died of a glioblastoma. His grandchildren have applied for compensation from the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) fund. However, he died three and a half weeks too soon. In order to qualify for the compensation, there has to be a five-year latent period. Had he lived another month, it would have been five years between the start date of his work at Hanford and the date of his death, and we would have qualified for compensation.
Here is why I am writing: If one has a glioblastoma, which is a fast-growing tumor, the estimated life expectancy is less than a year. So, if one develops a glioblastoma from exposure to radiation, then it is not likely the person would last out the fund's required five-year latent period. If you can shed any light on this, we would be grateful.
First, the answer to your question of whether radiation could cause a glioblastoma is clearly yes. However, to determine whether to provide compensation, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) must answer a different question, in accordance with the provisions of EEOICPA. The DOL must use probability of causation (PC); that is, they must determine the likelihood that the worker's cancer was caused by exposure to radiation during employment. You can find a discussion of PC on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
If the PC is 50% or greater (if the cancer was at least as likely as not to have been caused by exposure during covered employment), the energy worker (or their survivors) is eligible for compensation from DOL: $150,000, plus medical benefits for surviving energy workers for their cancer treatment.
An important part of determining the PC is latency. It takes time (the latent period) for a cancer to appear after the radiation exposure occurs. A latent period of decades may elapse between radiation exposure and the detection of cancer. The latent period for most cancers, including glioblastoma, is much longer than five years. The shortest latent periods, about five years, are for leukemia and thyroid cancer.
Nevertheless, the EEOICPA established its own rules about latency for different kinds of cancers. You can view those rules on the CDC website. As this web page says, "… a covered employee … [may] qualify for compensation [for primary cancer of the brain] … provided onset was at least five years after first exposure."
Apparently, even after giving the benefit of the doubt regarding latency for radiation-induced glioblastoma, the DOL was unable to award your family compensation under the provisions of the EEOICPA. It appears that the reason the claim could not be granted compensation is because the latency period of at least five years between exposure and the time of development (diagnosis) of the cancer was not met.
You can appeal the decision to the DOL Final Adjudication Branch. For a brief description of the entire EEOICPA claim process, see the DOL brochure.
Bob Cherry, CHP, PhD