|U.S. Dept. of Energy Awards Queens College $40.5 Million to Continue Health Screening of Nuclear Weapons Workers|
-- Includes Nation’s Largest Occupational Lung Cancer Screening Program--
FLUSHING, NY, March 27, 2015 – In 1998, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems at Queens College—recently renamed the Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment to honor its founder—began the Worker Health Protection Program (WHPP). To date, more than 30,000 nuclear weapons workers in eight states have received free medical screenings; this early detection of work-related lung cancers and other illnesses has saved lives.
Thanks to renewed funding of $40.5 million from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and contractor, the United Steelworkers Union, this innovative occupational disease screening program will now extend from February 2015 until January 2020. Queens College conducts the program in conjunction with the United Steelworkers and the Atomic Trades and Labor Council labor unions and regional medical providers.
The Worker Health Protection Program detects work-related illnesses at an early stage when medical intervention can be the most helpful. A second goal is to provide an occupational medicine evaluation that may help workers obtain compensation through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Administered by the United States Department of Labor, the program was established by Congress in 2000 for DOE workers with occupationally related illnesses.
Queens College offers screenings to former DOE workers from 14 DOE nuclear facilities in New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Nevada, New Mexico, California and Idaho. Physicians trained in occupational medicine are used to identify work-related conditions such as asbestosis, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, cancer, hearing loss, and chronic beryllium disease, all of which can be caused by the toxic substances used in a wide range of occupational activities throughout DOE work sites.
Over 13,000 have been screened specifically for lung cancer, making it one of the largest occupational lung cancer-screening programs in the world. Since 2000, Queens College has pioneered the use of low-dose computed tomography (CT) scanning for the early detection of occupational lung cancer among DOE workers who were exposed to asbestos, radiation, beryllium, and other lung carcinogens. Low-dose chest CT scanning can identify lung cancers when they are small and can be surgically removed, reducing the likelihood of death. In just the past year alone (2/1/14 through 1/31/15), more than 3,100 CT screenings took place.
To date, the Worker Health Protection Program has found more than 120 lung cancers, with three-quarters in early and treatable stages. In 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, a federally funded committee of independent medical experts, endorsed the use of low-dose CT scans for early lung cancer detection among high-risk individuals, which is expected to lead to expanded insurance coverage of lung cancer screening.
“Once again, we are grateful that the Department of Energy continues to support the work that we do,” says Steven Markowitz, M.D., Director of the Barry Commoner Center of Health and the Environment and WHPP. “More important, we are gratified that we are able to help so many people understand how their jobs might have affected their health.”
Markowitz is also proud of the program’s outreach to bring in new participants and to encourage participants to partake in follow-up examinations every three years. Many methods are employed, including town hall and union meetings, booths at industry and union conferences, company picnics and events, and extensive use of print and electronic communications such as brochures, direct mailings, a website, social media, paid ads and media coverage of the WHPP program. The work has paid off: in 2014, WHPP provided general occupational medical screenings to over 4,200 workers, which represents the largest number of participants in the program’s 17 years of operation. Of the group screened in 2014, over 1,000 workers were seen by WHPP for the first time.
For more information on the WHPP, visit http://commonercenter.org/WHPP.html
The Barry Commoner Center for Health and the Environment at Queens College is an environmental and occupational health research institute that identifies and helps rectify environmental and occupational threats to human health. For nearly a decade following 9/11, the Center offered post-disaster health screenings and treatment to first-responders and those engaged in the cleanup. The Center is now conducting studies on long-term heart disease and asthma to understand the health problems caused by exposures associated with cleaning up the World Trade Center site. Another priority is the health and safety of immigrant and low-wage workers. Its director, Steven Markowitz, is an occupational medicine physician and epidemiologist.