CDC ignores subpoena seeking Hanford data

CDC ignores subpoena seeking Hanford data

Karen Dorn Steele Staff writer

A Spokane federal judge wants to know why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is ignoring a subpoena by lawyers for Hanford downwinders for details of a massive government study of Hanford radiation releases.

The Justice Department was involved in the CDC’s decision, a lawyer for the downwinders said Thursday in a status conference before U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen.

“They are trying to blow us off,” said Louise Roselle, lead attorney for thousands of people suing Hanford contractors for exposing them to clouds of radiation from the 1940s through the ’60s.

“I was very surprised by their response” to her Dec. 10 subpoena, said Roselle.

A CDC attorney told her the public health agency was “getting directions” from Justice Department lawyer Raphael Gomez, Roselle told Nielsen.

Gomez represents the U.S. Department of Energy, the federal agency that runs Hanford. Gomez didn’t return a reporter’s call Thursday seeking comment on his role in the controversy.

CDC’s money to conduct health studies around weapons plants comes from the Energy Department, plaintiff’s attorney Tom Foulds told Nielsen.

“They have the power of the purse,” he said.

Nielsen agreed to set up a conference call today to help the lawyers get the documents they need.

He also agreed – over the objections of defense attorneys – to a 30 day extension to accommodate the CDC subpoena and a similar one to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Fred Hutchinson scientists did most of the work on the Hanford Thyroid Disease study, a $20 million effort to study the association between Hanford’s radiation releases and thyroid disease.

In 1999, the study reported inconclusive results, saying it found no association.

After the study’s weak statistical power – its ability to detect a radiation impact – was criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, the CDC revised the study, spending another $1.5 million over three years. But the revisions didn’t change the study’s main conclusion.

The new CDC subpoena, filed in federal court, seeks detailed information on the data and computer programs used in the study and its revisions.

The lawyers also want to know whether CDC conducted the thyroid study for “litigation defense “- an effort to absolve Hanford contractors for any responsibility for polluting Eastern Washington while making nuclear weapons.

The subpoena asks CDC to provide all contacts with Kirkland & Ellis, the Chicago law firm representing the Hanford defendants.

Kevin Van Wart of Kirkland & Ellis, lead attorney for the defendants, questioned why the plaintiffs’ lawyers waited so late to subpoena the CDC with legal discovery scheduled to end on Jan. 30.

The plaintiffs “have an incentive to try to undermine the (thyroid disease) study … this could be a manufactured excuse,” Van Wart said.

Roselle denied any foot-dragging. She said her legal team had closely analyzed the 700-page thyroid study and filed an extensive Freedom of Information request with the CDC last year.

CDC refused to provide the information the lawyers sought through the FOIA request, she said.

Meanwhile, the 14-year-old case is heading for mediation.

Starting in mid-March, Spokane attorney Gary Bloom will hold a daylong mediation session. But lawyers for both sides said on Thursday they don’t expect the case to settle any time soon.

The final list of 12 “bellwether” cases scheduled to go to trial in March 2005 will be made public today. They are all people who allege that Hanford’s iodine-131 releases gave them some form of thyroid disease.

Copyright 2004 Cowles Publishing Company

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