Because so many former workers have COPD and lung-related illnesses like lung cancer and bronchial asthma, Sherry Rothzen’s suspicions former workers have potentially become ill through cross-contamination seems like a reasonable theory that deserves to be looked at more thoroughly. All paperwork within the facility was hand-delivered. Engineers, draftsmen, guards, supervisors, foremen, shop and maintenance workers, and administrators moved freely around the facility on a daily basis. If they were exposed to something, they were taking it with them to their next destination.

As a point of reference, on a car odometer from Gate 3 to the Administration Bldg., I recorded the following numbers. Starting at Gate 3 the odometer registered 24.1 miles. At Gate 4 where the 300-148 Shops are the odometer registered 25.7 miles. Middletown School read 25.8 miles. The Middletown Trailer Court where I lived was 25.9 miles, and the Administration Building was 26.2 miles. Gate 4 was directly north of the FS12 Burning Site. There is a very real possibility we were exposed to both cross-contamination and contamination from the smoke that carried oxidized contaminants from the burning sites to our locations.

The Army had its own water plant inside the 19,000 acre facility. The water came from a lake named after the Chief Engineer, George Mathes. In 1971, radionuclides were discovered in the sediment in the bottom of Lake Mathes. The Army sent a letter to Burlington Municipal water requesting they be put on Burlington Water Supply. Because pipes had to be run to Middletown, that didn’t happen until January of 1977. Loretta Thomann, City Clerk of Middletown, Iowa, provided me with additional information. Middletown was obtaining its water from Lake Mathes, as well. From 1942 until 1977, the Army provided Middletown with its water as well. This would indicated that a civilian population living outside of the plant fence was put at risk as well.


In October of 2011 on a Friday at the Machinist Union Hall in Middletown, I had one-on-one conversations with several former workers from the IAAP, Bill Mathes, who grew up in a house inside the IAAP fence, Jim Shelton and Johnny Mendez, former Line 1 IAAP workers. Here are the highlights of those conversations:

Bill Mathes

Bill Mathes was the son of George Mathes, a Chief Engineer at IAAP who Lake Mathes is named after. George Mathes and his wife lived in a house inside the fence behind Gate 4.

Bill said all the 13 Mathes children have had health issues. His sister, Barb, filed a claim on the death of her father and mother, and herself, but their claims were denied. George Mathes had esophageal cancer, their mother had colon cancer, and Barbara had leukemia.

The Mathes family lived on the plant grounds about a mile inside Gate 4. Bill Mathes disputes the idea that nobody ever drank well water inside the plant grounds because he says the house his family lived in did get their water from a well next to the house.

Bill talked about spending a lot of recreational time with a friend, Henry Mattes inside the plant grounds. He said he and Henry fished in creeks that ran with red water. The fish they pulled out of those creeks had tumors all over them. Bill said Henry took down a mature deer that had tumors on it as well.

Jim Shelton

On that same Friday afternoon at the Machinist Union Hall in Middletown, Jim Shelton told me he “tore down things.” He went on to explain, “Tear down was in Buildings 112 South and 113. We took plutonium out of old bombs. I was a Line 1 production foreman (line leader), a press operator, and a guard supervisor. Guards went all over the plant. We had no way of knowing if the old bombs we took apart were leaking anything. We recycled the plutonium pits out of them and put them in new bombs. We also recycled the gold and silver out of the old bombs. Then the scrap metal remaining was taken to the burning fields and burned.”

Eighty-five-year-old Johnny Mendez also offered to share some of his experiences as a former worker at the IAAP in Middletown. Mendez said he did tear down in the 113 Bldg. In addition, Mendez said he worked on Line 1 in the early 1970s. Johnny took fat boy bombs apart. He disassembled them and took out the pits and moved them to new bombs. Mendez repeated what Shelton had said. “We were recycling the materials from old bombs. There could have been leaks and we wouldn’t have known it. Alarms went off on the line all the time. If we asked a supervisor about them we were told everything was fine.”

* In the Introduction and Part I of Taking on the Government, some of the background for the 2000 EEOICPA, and former workers shared concerns over the discrimination between Div. A and Div. B when DOL has made decisions about claims. Many former workers believe Div. A should have received compensation too. Look for Part II, ‘Taking on the Government’, in this five part series.

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