A D.C. firefighter and a former employe of the Smithsonian Institution will receive the Christic Institute's second annual Karen Silkwood Award for their roles in helping to publicize the dangerous conditions of PCB transformers at Smithsonian museums.
Lt. Patrick J. Walsh of the D.C. Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Unit and John Payne, a former electrician at the Smithsonian, will receive a local Silkwood award for calling attention to toxic hazards at the Smithsonian, a Christic Institute spokeswoman said.
Ruby Huntley, a cook at the District's McKinley High School who has helped spearhead the clean-up of asbestos in the city's public schools, will also receive a local award, and three other persons who helped bring to light health and safety violations in the nuclear and weapons industries will receive national Silkwood awards at a 7:30 ceremony tonight at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.
Walsh and Payne were instrumental earlier this year in helping to publicize that Smithsonian transformers cooled with polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were leaking the toxic substance in violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
Their disclosure prompted the EPA to conduct an emergency inspection of high-voltage transformers in three Smithsonian museums. In July the EPA cited the institution for violations in the disposal, use, storage, marking and record-keeping of PCBs.
"We view their battle as a laudable effort as regards the safety of employes at the Smithsonian, but also because they have taken action to preserve and protect things in the nation's museums that are for all of us," said Sara Nelson of the Christic Institute, an interfaith public policy and public interest law center founded in 1980.
Karen Silkwood, whose life was later chronicled in a popular motion picture, died in a November 1974 car accident while going to meet a reporter to report falsification of quality-control findings at the plutonium processing plant where she worked. Her daughter, Kristi Meadows, will present the awards at tonight's ceremony.
In addition to the local awards, according to Nelson, national awards will be presented to Gene Braham, president of the Fernald Atomic Trades and Labor Council, which recently settled a strike at an Ohio nuclear weapons facility by establishing "important precedents" for the protection of nuclear workers; Charles Stokes, an engineer who reported illegal engineering practices and falsification of safety records at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Benjamin Levy, president and founder of the Nevada Test Site Workers Radiation Victims Association, "who has worked tirelessly to document the falsification of workers' exposure records and the fate of his coworkers" after the detonation of atomic bombs at the test site.