The New York Times reports that Charles D. Varnadore, a former nuclear laboratory technician and whistleblower, has died at the age of 71. Varnadore died on March 7, in Tennessee, but it “went unreported except for a classified advertisement in the Knoxville News Sentinel, and the ad made no mention of whistleblowing.” The lack of attention to Vanadore’s passing brings to mind the month-long delay in reporting the death of Roger Boisjoly, the whistleblowing Morton-Thiokol engineer who tried to prevent the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. Even in death, it seems, whistleblowers don’t get much respect from the establishment.
Varnadore reported health and safety problems at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and appeared on a CBS evening news program about excess cancers among lab employees. His bosses then began giving him negative evaluations and assigned him useless work to perform. They isolated Varnadore from other workers, moving him to a storage room that contained drums of toxic radioactive waste.
He was stationed in that room for over six months. A health physicist found the area to be unsafe, and, in September 1991, Varnadore was moved to another waste storage room, which contained mercury, radioactive materials and asbestos. Marietta moved Varnadore out of the second room after his lawyers complained in November.
“It’s one of the most horrid forms of repression and retaliation that I’ve have ever seen,” says Edward A. Slavin Jr. of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a Washington, D.C.-based group that works to protect whistle blowers.
Varnadore fought a long legal battle that eventually failed to compensate him for his ordeal but resulted in safety reforms at the lab. His wife, Frances, when asked about the cause of death, said, “He got tired of fighting.”