Former employees, families sue companies working on Piketon-area nuclear plant

“The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges workers and their families became ill due to the actions of U.S. Department of Energy contractors. The suit seeks a medical monitoring program to evaluate the multi-generational impact of radioactive contamination.”

Columbus, OH | Columbus Dispatch

A lawsuit filed on behalf of former nuclear employees and their families accuses U.S. Department of Energy contractors of “poisoning workers and the people, land, air and water for miles” around the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant that was in southern Ohio.

The actions of DOE’s contractors released radioactive isotopes that “have created a situation akin to a creeping Chernobyl” and resulted in “injuries, sickness, disease, including cancers, damage to DNA, death, loss of and damages to property, and reduction in property values,” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

The contamination likely spread in Pike, Scioto, Lawrence, Vinton and Adams counties in Ohio, according to the lawsuit.

Though the DOE is not named as a defendant in the case, its contractors are, including: Centrus Energy Corp., the United States Enrichment Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Uranium Disposition Services, BWXT Conversion Services, Mid-America Conversion Services, Bechtel Jacobs Co., Lata/Parallax Portsmouth LLC, FLUOR-BWXT Portsmouth LLC, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and Martin Marietta Inc.

DOE spokeswoman Jessica Szymanski said Friday that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit is requesting a medical monitoring program that would evaluate the multi-generational impact of radioactive contamination.

“That is a major component of our request for relief,” said Nathan Hunter, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, who noted that DNA damage could be transferred through generations.

There’s a workers’ compensation fund for nuclear workers, but that has failed the plaintiffs because of a host of issues, including falsified records, Hunter said.

The accusations are serious, and allege that DOE and the companies “actively deceived workers, the general public and regulators,” by suppressing critical information, including the release and spreading of nuclear poison, safety violations, arson, workplace exposures, and illegally transporting highly radioactive materials, as well as conspiring to destroy and falsify records.

Jeff Walburn worked in security at the plant for 31 years, and was hospitalized in 1994 because of damage to his lungs. He’s listed as a plaintiff.

“My life and family have been decimated by the nuclear scourge unleashed into the environment by these companies. These radioactive isotopes go into our bodies, creating cancers and genetic defects for generations,” he said in a released statement.

Charles “Chick” Lawson, a resident of Lucasville who was employed for 15 years in security and was the union safety representative and OHSHA investigator at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, also is a plaintiff.

“We are filing this lawsuit to expose the heinous actions and extensive cover-up by companies paid over a billion dollars to protect us,” he said in a released statement.

The lawsuit says that cancer rates in some affected areas are 700% greater than the national average. Scioto, Pike, Lawrence Vinton and Adams counties have the highest cancer rates in the state of Ohio, according to the lawsuit.

Pike County’s cancer rate was the second-highest in Ohio in 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Vinton County had the highest rate of cancer, records show.

The lawsuit filed Thursday is the latest filed in connection to health issues associated with the former plant.

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