BEVERLY — When Roger Demers came home from working the graveyard shift at Metal Hydrides in the 1940s and ’50s, he made sure to change out of his work clothes on the porch before stepping inside his Salem house.
“It wasn’t because my mother was a neat freak,” said Mary Lennon, Demers’ daughter. “I think he was worried about what was on his clothes.”
Demers worked for nine years as a chemical mixer at Metal Hydrides, a company in Beverly that was part of the Manhattan Project, the government’s secret plan to produce the world’s first atomic bomb.
Workers like Demers, who died of brain and lung cancer in 1991, had no idea they were involved in the making of such an historic weapon. And they had little knowledge of the dangers of the chemicals and radiation to which they were exposed.
Now, decades later, a decision by the federal government should make it easier for those former employees or their survivors to be compensated for the devastating health consequences that many of the workers suffered.
In October, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recommended to Congress that Metal Hydrides employees of the 1940s who were later diagnosed with cancer be granted a special status that could clear the way for government compensation of up to $150,000.
The measure went into effect on Nov. 11, opening the door for workers or their family members to apply for compensation under the new “special exposure cohort” status.
That classification means former employees will no longer have to prove that the cancer was caused by working at Metal Hydrides. Instead, they will only have to document their cancer diagnosis and the fact that they worked at Metal Hydrides between Nov. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1948. If the worker has died, family members can apply.