Family Says Mom's Job Caused Son's Cancer

By Jennifer Auther


Several lawsuits have been filed in Southern California alleging that former nuclear power plant workers unknowingly brought home radiation. Attorneys say that the positively charged fuel particles attached themselves to clothing.

The Rock family thinks Vicki Rock's former job at the plant caused her son's cancer.


Joshua Rock, 19, once dreamed of becoming a firefighter. But in 1994, Joshua learned that he had developed a rare form of Leukemia.

His mother, Vicki Rock, says she thinks she brought home cancer-causing radioactive particles from defective fuel rods at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in California, where she worked 10 years ago. "My responsibility was to record and monitor exposure of other employees to radiation and to document that. I also inspected and repaired respirators," Rock said.


Dr. Harry Demopolis, a cancer origin expert, said the hazards of working in those conditions are sometimes underestimated. "It's like handling a spill of AIDS-infected blood. The toxic element was there," he said.

The Rock family is suing the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant. But the vice president of the company that owns the plant, Southern California Edison, says that they are not responsible. "There's no way we could have harmed Joshua Rock," Dick Rosenblum said.

Although Vicki Rock has not been diagnosed with cancer, Dr. Demopolis will testify that by washing her clothes with the rest of the family's, she exposed them to radiation. He will say that is how Joshua got his rare form of leukemia. "The overwhelming cause of AML, acute myelogenous leukemia, is radiation," Demopolis said.


Don Howarth is representing Joshua Rock's family in the suit and he's filed at least five other lawsuits on behalf of former San Onofre workers. He'll argue that San Onofre workers in 1985 and 1986 carried home tiny radioactive particles called "fuel fleas."

"We have documented examples of them getting out of the plant during the '80s, onto somebody's carpet who worked in the plant; going off on somebody's shoe," Howarth said.


Rosenblum doesn't deny the claim, but he denies that the plant caused leukemia in families that have brought suits against the company. He says that San Onofre gets high marks from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on radiation monitoring and on worker safety.

"In fact, we showed that (the NRC report) to a jury here a couple of months ago in a lawsuit we just completed and a jury unanimously voted for our side," Rosenblum said.


The Rock family suit will wait to go on trial after another suit against Southern California Edison is completed. The family expects Joshua's health to hold out till then.