Thousands of Iowans who worked in nuclear and conventional weapons factories over the decades are being urged to get a free health screening. Dr. Laurence Fuortes, a University of Iowa professor of environmental and occupational health, is heading up the project.
He says the Ames Laboratory in Ames and the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Burlington played key roles in the nation’s defense strategy, dating back to the World War Two era. Fuortes says: "Ames was a facility that was critical to the development of the atomic bomb. They were part of the Manhattan Project and refined several million pounds of highly radioactive metals, uranium and thorium. The facility in Burlington actually assembled atomic weapons until 1975."
He says it’s unclear exactly how many workers were employed in the facilities, though they have some general numbers. Fuortes says about 30,000 workers were employed at the Iowa Army Ammunition plant from 1950 to date and another 13,000 worked at the Ames Lab. He says many of the workers may have been exposed to a host of toxic chemicals before the risks of those substances were completely understood.
The health screenings are being offered in several locations in Iowa — Ames, Iowa City, Burlington and Mount Pleasant. He says relatives of those workers should also take note. "People whose family members worked at one of these facilities and died as a result of lung disease or cancers, if they worked for the Department of Energy, they may be eligible for a federal compensation program," Fuortes says. "We would gladly try to counsel those families."
He says the health screenings are available to all former workers at the plants, no matter the duration of employment period, type of job or current health status. The free screenings include a chest x-ray, a breathing test and general blood work.
"These workers were exposed to a variety of chemical agents that have particular risk for lung disease, and if it were radiation exposure, cancers," Fuortes says. "We honestly did not know the extent of the risk of beryllium exposure in these facilities." He says the screenings may detect early stages of treatable occupational illnesses. For more information, call 866-282-5818.