Bill would compensate victims of beryllium, other hazards

May 10, 2000

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich yesterday introduced legislation to compensate beryllium workers and others who have been harmed while building and maintaining America's nuclear arsenal.

"It is not only a responsibility of this government to provide for these individuals, it is a moral obligation,'' he said in a statement.

Workers would receive health-care benefits and their choice of lost wages or a one-time payment of $200,000.

The bill would cover workers at the Brush Wellman beryllium plant near Elmore, where at least 75 people have contracted a chronic lung disease from the metal's toxic dust.

Also covered are construction workers who developed beryllium disease after doing contract work at Brush Wellman plants.

Richard Miller, a policy analyst for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union, whose membership includes workers at beryllium plants, said the Voinovich plan provides far more benefits than previous compensation proposals.

"This sets the high-water mark for what legislation should look like,'' he said.

In announcing his bill, Senator Voinovich cited a series of articles in The Blade last year about the hazards of beryllium. The series documented how the U.S. government and beryllium industry knowingly allowed thousands of workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust.

The series was instrumental in a historic admission by the federal government, which acknowledged for the first time that it had harmed Cold War weapons workers. President Clinton asked Congress to compensate these victims, a request that resulted in three bills being introduced in Congress.

In April, the Clinton administration announced plans to expand its beryllium compensation proposal to include weapons workers harmed by exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals. The Voinovich plan also covers illnesses related to radiation and hazardous substances.

Voinovich spokesman Mike Dawson said it is unclear how much the senator's plan would cost. In his statement, Mr. Voinovich said Congress spends billions of dollars a year "on things that are not the responsibility of the federal government. And here we have a clear instance where our federal government is responsible for the actions it has taken and the negligence it has shown against its own people."

Mr. Dawson said Mr. Voinovich's bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House yesterday by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Ted Strickland, a Democrat from Ohio.

Said Mr. Whitfield: "While no amount of money can compensate a person or loved one for a protracted illness or death, our bill at least attempts to cover long-term health care costs, which is clearly the most important benefit we can provide."

Mr. Miller, the union analyst, said he is hopeful a compensation plan can be passed soon. "There's a lot of momentum on this issue," he said.

Brush Wellman is America's leading beryllium producer, with headquarters in Cleveland and facilities in several states. Brush attorney Thomas Clare said that the company supports the Voinovich plan. "We believe it will benefit our employees and contractors and subcontractors."


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