It is not clear how many former Metal Hydrides employees who fit the special exposure cohort status are still alive. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 20 former Metal Hydrides employees or their survivors have submitted claims for compensation. Five have been paid a combined $750,000.
The payments are available under a law passed by Congress in 2000 to compensate workers who were exposed to radiation at certain Department of Energy facilities, including the one in Beverly. The law allows the government to grant lump-sum payments of up to $150,000 and payment of medical expenses to former workers who have been diagnosed with one of 22 specified cancers.
In his report, Glover said the working conditions in Beverly were obviously unsafe. Metal Hydrides converted uranium oxide into uranium metal powder that was used in the first reactor that helped to produce the atomic bomb, and also melted and recast scrap uranium metal. Those processes, which include the use of black ore, could have exposed workers to contamination from radium, radon and uranium.
Glover said an estimated 107 people worked in the refinery, which produced about 350 pounds of metal per day on a three-shift schedule. Sixteen people worked in the scrap-casting operation, which produced more than 3,000 pounds of material daily.
Glover told the agency’s Advisory Board of Radiation and Worker Health that workers routinely scooped uranium powder into tins using their hands. According to a transcript of the meeting, Glover said material was thrown outside and allowed to burn, while metal left outside in leaching liquid would spontaneously ignite every few weeks.
A study of the facility in 1943 discovered that the soil contained up to 79 percent uranium oxide. “‘Contaminated’ is probably a mild word,” Glover told the advisory board. In 1944, 120,000 pounds of soil were removed from the site and shipped to the DuPont Chemical Co. to recover the uranium in the soil.