SPOKANE — The lead lawyer for government contractors in the long-running Hanford downwinders lawsuit says his companies are ready to offer cash settlements to some of the more than 2,000 people who believe their illnesses were caused by radiation released from the nuclear reservation.
Attorney Kevin Van Wart, of Chicago, who represents Hanford contractors E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co. and General Electric Co., said his clients were willing to settle some claims of people exposed to the most radiation, The Spokesman-Review reported. He spoke at a status conference on the 18-year-old lawsuit, hosted by U.S. District Judge William Nielsen on Tuesday.
“This case has been caught on dead center for too long,” Nielsen told the attorneys. “Let’s come up with something so we can proceed.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend they suffered cancer and other illnesses as a result of living downwind of releases of radioactive iodine-131 from the Department of Energy reservation in south-central Washington. The releases occurred as plutonium was being produced for nuclear weapons during World War II and the Cold War.
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Residents of Eastern Washington and parts of Oregon and Idaho didn’t know about the releases until the U.S. Department of Energy declassified documents in 1986.
Van Wart noted a ruling by Nielsen that any exposure to 40 rads or less of radiation requires speculation about whether it caused illnesses. The vast majority of those exposed to Hanford radiation claim they were exposed to less than 40 rads.
“We think any exposure to less than 40 rads should be dismissed. If people have a 5 percent chance that exposure caused their condition, we will go to court every time,” Van Wart said. “We do believe that some claims are more meritorious than others and should be settled. We will make individual offers. We will see if the plaintiffs find them appealing.”
Louise Roselle, lead attorney for the downwinders, welcomed settlement offers.
The government has spent about $57 million to defend the contractors. Attorneys on both sides argued about how to place the plaintiffs into smaller, more manageable groups.