By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
George Bassitt remembers his first Fernald paycheck - $80 for 40 hours of work. It was more than he had ever made.
It was 1953, and the plant had just opened. Bassitt was a chemical operator, and that paycheck convinced him it was well worth leaving his out-of-state job.
Bassitt did what he was told and never discussed his work.
He worked nights for years: "Anything went on the third shift."
Like the time, he says, a boxcar brought in radioactive waste for dumping. Workers couldn't get it clean enough to leave the plant, so a supervisor ordered Bassitt and another man to paint over it.
"I don't remember if it was white or black, but that's how we got it out of the plant," he says.
The secrecy at the plant didn't bother him. Not even when he fell on the job and injured his leg in the late 1950s. He was kept in a makeshift hospital room at the plant for three days. Managers wouldn't let his wife or his parents in to see him.
And that bothered his wife, Nell: "We were hysterical. I think they just didn't want people to know they had a serious accident out there."
Today, Bassitt, 74, is leading the charge to have Fernald workers compensated.
Bassitt has had four heart bypass operations. He bristles when talking about how long it has taken the government to get the compensation programs running, and he's angry that millions of dollars are being spent on studies to figure out how much radiation was at the plant over the years.
"Why don't they just pay us and be done with it?'' he says. "People are suffering right now."
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