- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - A long-running federal court lawsuit filed by people who contend their health was damaged by radioactive emissions from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is finally ending.

The final plaintiffs in the massive lawsuit filed 24 years ago have either reached settlement agreements or dropped their claims.

About 15 years ago, there were as many as 5,000 people claiming their health was harmed by the emissions.

The Tri-City Herald (https://bit.ly/1L8Z1Tk ) reported Thursday that the majority of the claims were for thyroid cancer or other thyroid conditions.

The U.S. Department of Energy, which owns Hanford, said Wednesday it was pleased the matter had been resolved.



Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and now is engaged in cleaning up the nation’s largest collection of nuclear waste.

Attorney Richard Eymann of Spokane, who represented numerous downwinders, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“I’m not happy at all,” Eymann said. “From the very beginning we dealt with a scorched-earth defense. These people were never fairly compensated for the extent of their injuries and how they suffered from their injuries over many, many years.”

During World War II and the early years of the Cold War, radioactive iodine was released into the air at Hanford during the production of plutonium. The iodine drifted over communities surrounding Hanford, where it settled to the ground on crops and pastures where cows grazed. Children were particularly at risk of developing disease years later if they drank milk contaminated with radioactive iodine, which concentrated in the thyroid gland.

The number of plaintiffs who reached settlement agreements was not available in legal documents.

The settlements were confidential, said Kevin Van Wart, one of the lead defense attorneys for early Hanford contractors DuPont, General Electric, UNC Nuclear Industries, Atlantic Richfield and Rockwell International.

Just six of the plaintiffs had their cases heard by a federal court jury, after U.S. District Court Judge William Fremming Nielsen ordered that a bellwether trial be conducted in 2005 in the hopes that getting jury decisions on a few cases would provide guidance to settle most other claims out of court.

Of the six cases that went to trial, three of those plaintiffs had noncancerous thyroid disease and the jury awarded no money. The remaining three cases were for downwinders with thyroid cancer. A jury awarded a combined total of $545,000 to two of those downwinders and split on the third case.

In an early settlement offer that was made public, the defense offered $150,000 for thyroid cancer patients, $40,000 for patients with underactive thyroids and $10,000 for patients with thyroid nodules, but only if they were exposed to certain levels of radiation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control spent more than $20 million on an epidemiological study released in 1999 that found no evidence that any kind of thyroid disease increased among those who were children living downwind of Hanford when radioactive iodine was being released.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, https://www.tri-cityherald.com

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