Workers encouraged but remain skeptical
July 16, 1999
Local beryllium workers interviewed by The Blade say they are heartened that the federal government is taking responsibility, but concerned that the payouts won't suffice.
Under the proposal announced yesterday by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, beryllium workers employed by private contractors and suppliers would be eligible for federal benefits if they have chronic beryllium disease, an often-fatal lung illness.
Victims of the disease, which is caused by exposure to beryllium's toxic dust, would be reimbursed for medical costs and some lost wages. Some victims would have the option of a single, lump-sum benefit of $100,000.
But that's not enough, some workers say.
"I think it's a slap in the face, that dollar amount," said Dave Miller, who contracted chronic beryllium disease working at the Brush Wellman beryllium plant outside Elmore. "How am I supposed to live off $100,000 for the rest of my life?"
"The $100,000, that's nice for someone who is 65 years old, but what about for someone who is younger and has a family to take care of?'' said Gary Renwand, Jr., 42, a Brush Wellman worker whose father suffers from chronic beryllium disease.
The Energy Department proposal would make beryllium victims eligible to participate in the federal government's workers' compensation system. The proposal, which needs congressional approval, would not offer any other form of restitution.
"I think the federal government is doing the right thing, provided that everybody is included: past, current, and future victims," said Glenn Petersen, 28, an employee at the Brush Wellman plant. "That the Department of Energy accepted any blame whatsoever is a surprise to me."
Some workers say the federal government should do more than provide benefits.
Leona Dupler, a machine operator at the Brush Wellman plant, wants the federal government to find new ways of limiting workers' exposure to beryllium dust.
"People are still being exposed," she said. "I just think something should be done."
Mr. Miller, whose mother Marilyn worked at a Brush Wellman plant in Luckey, and then died last year after a 30-year battle with beryllium disease, said the government should work to find a cure.
"If the government should be pumping money into anything, it should be research into stopping the disease," he said. "I haven't heard anything about that. I would much rather see research and a cure."
Mr. Miller, though, might be in line for two streams of federal benefits: one as a victim, the other as a son of someone killed by the disease. He takes some solace in yesterday's announcement.
"It's good that somebody stepped up to the plate," he said.
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