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RocketDyne

By WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Boeing Co. will likely be subjected to a rising number of personal injury lawsuits as a result of a new study that found abnormally high rates of cancer among workers at its Rocketdyne facility near Simi Valley, as well as residents living near the facility. “I certainly think there will be additional suits and the study is an energizing factor, said Dan Hirsch, a member of a state-appointed oversight panel on the study, which was funded by the state and conducted by UCLA. Helen Zukin, a West Los Angeles attorney, is preparing a number of personal injury suits against Rocketdyne on behalf of people who worked for independent contractors at the facility and people who live near the site. Rocketdyne spokesman Dan Beck said no facility worker or neighbor was ever exposed to radiation above federal limits. The UCLA study, released Sept. 11, examined incidences of cancer among those who may have been exposed to radiation at the Rocketdyne facility, where nuclear testing was conducted from 1950 to 1989. The study looked at sets of 4,563 and 2,297 current and past employees (out of about 50,000 workers during those years). It found that workers with the “highest levels” of exposure experienced a cancer death rate three times that of those with minor exposure. It also concluded that exposure at the facility was responsible for 27.3 percent of cancer deaths among those exposed to any measurable radiation. A companion report on the health effects of chemical exposure at the Rocketdyne facility is expected early next year, which could further expose Boeing to personal injury liability. Both studies were ordered by state health officials to assess the need for a larger and more involved study of the possible effects of Rocketdyne’s facility on the health of residents of adjacent communities. Rocketdyne officials question the validity of the report. “The sample groups they are drawing from for the report are too small to draw broad conclusions,” said Beck. “Our panel of medicine and science experts found areas of the study open to interpretation.” Ultimately, Beck said, the findings don’t point out any inordinate health damage from radiation exposure at the test site. Boeing acquired Rocketdyne this year from Rockwell International Corp., which means it inherits liability stemming from Rocketdyne’s past operations. The report may have national implications, said Hirsch. It and similar studies will be used as evidence to support the contention that allowable levels of radiation exposure under federal law are far too high. “This and studies at other nuclear testing sites show that low-level radiation exposure is as much as 10 times more dangerous than previously thought,” said Hirsch, who is also president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a non-profit California organization aiding communities adjacent to nuclear sites. The study recommends that standards be significantly tightened. Since the study was released, Hirsch and UCLA epidemiologists have spoken with federal energy officials about tightening federal standards, but no action has yet been taken, he said.

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