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University of Iowa News Release

March 8, 2004

New UI Study To Examine Health Of Weapons Workers

A University of Iowa College of Public Health research project will begin investigating the health of current and former workers, including contractors and subcontractors, of the U.S. Army portion of the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAAP) in Middletown, Iowa.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), is intended to determine the nature and extent of DoD workers' exposure to radioactive and other hazardous substances at the bomb-making plant in southeast Iowa. The UI research team will be led by Laurence Fuortes, M.D., professor of occupational and environmental health.

Since 2001, another UI project, also led by Fuortes, has been providing a medical screening program for former nuclear weapons workers at IAAAP. The screening program for former nuclear weapons workers has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

"The study of DoD workers will address health outcomes of employees who worked in operations and locations of the plant other than those associated with nuclear weapon production," Fuortes said. "Our goals are to determine if those DoD employees at IAAAP had similar or different health outcomes to those who did not work at the IAAAP. We will focus primarily on occupational lung disease and, through epidemiological studies, cancer and death rates."

Letters from the UI research team are being sent to IAAAP employees who may have worked for the DoD or the Atomic Energy Commission, the precursor agency to the current DOE. Recipients will be asked to complete and return a self-addressed, stamped postcard indicating whether they wish to be contacted for participation in the project. Researchers hope to screen 2,500 workers in all.

In the past, secrecy concerns related to national security have limited what workers could say to health care workers regarding possible exposures to radioactive or other hazardous substances.

A letter from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, encouraging IAAAP employees' participation in this study and providing guidance for their discussion of occupational health issues, was included with the UI mailing to workers.

"To ensure that secrecy policies do not prevent or discourage discussions regarding possible exposure to potentially harmful substances, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, determined that current and former personnel of former defense nuclear weapons facilities, including contractors and subcontractors, may discuss possible exposures to radioactive or hazardous substances associated with nuclear weapons with health care providers and other appropriate persons," Wolfowitz wrote in the letter to current and former IAAAP employees.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health, Office of Communications, 4261 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Dan McMillan, 319-335-6835, daniel-mcmillan@uiowa.edu