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Four more sue, fault Brush for exposure

December 3, 1999

Three more victims of beryllium disease have sued Brush Wellman, alleging that the company knowingly exposed them to unsafe levels of the potentially deadly metal.

And the widow of a Brush worker has filed a wrongful death suit against the company, claiming that beryllium disease killed her husband.

The four suits allege Brush Wellman "deliberately and intentionally'' exposed the workers at the company's beryllium plant outside Elmore to "unreasonably and abnormally hazardous and dangerous working conditions, knowing that injury and disease would occur."

The employees, the suits state, worked in areas of the plant where levels of toxic beryllium dust were above the federal safety limit.

The suits were filed Nov. 24 in Cleveland by class-action specialist Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, a Cincinnati law firm that has been involved in numerous high-profile cases, including the Dow Corning breast-implant litigation, the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India.

The law firm has now filed seven suits against Brush since May, said Louise Roselle, an attorney with the firm.

"Brush Wellman knew of the hazard, and they knew that injury was substantially certain to occur, and in spite of that knowledge, they required these people to work in those conditions," Ms. Roselle said.

In March, The Blade began a six-part series on the hazards of beryllium. Among the findings: The U.S. government and the beryllium industry, primarily Brush Wellman, risked the lives of thousands of workers by knowingly allowing them to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium, a material critical to the production of nuclear weapons. As a result, dozens of workers contracted beryllium disease, an incurable, often-fatal lung illness caused by the metal's dust.

Jeffery Ubersax, an attorney for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, a Cleveland firm defending Brush Wellman, declined to comment on the lawsuits. Brush spokesman Hugh Hanes said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Brush Wellman is America's leading beryllium producer, with headquarters in Cleveland and plants in several states.

About 1,200 workers have contracted beryllium disease nationwide since the 1940s, including 65 current or former workers at the Elmore plant. Brush is facing lawsuits in Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, and Tennessee.

The recent suits were filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The three beryllium disease victims suing Brush are David Sewell Beckley of Clyde, O.; Jody Allen Wagner of McCutchenville, O., and Gary Renwand, Jr., of Oak Harbor, O.

Mr. Beckley and Mr. Renwand remain Brush employees at the Elmore plant, the suits state. Mr. Wagner left in September.

The victims say they contracted the illness at the plant and that they worked in areas where many dust readings were above the safety limit.

Mr. Beckley, a mechanic in the alloy maintenance department, alleges he worked for many years on machinery in the plant without wearing a respirator because management told him he didn't need one. Mr. Renwand claims respirators did not fit correctly when he sweated, and that one time, when customers were touring the plant, he was told not to wear a respirator.

Mr. Renwand was diagnosed with beryllium disease in October. His father, Gary Sr., a former Brush worker, was diagnosed with the illness in 1993 and now cannot breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank.

Janet Bostater of Elmore is suing on behalf of her late husband, Francis Ray Bostater, who died in 1998. Her suit states that Mr. Bostater started working at Brush in 1959, and about 1985, when he was having problems breathing, Brush sent him to the University of Pennsylvania, where he was diagnosed with cobalt disease.

But Mr. Bostater's personal doctor has maintained he had beryllium disease, and the death certificate lists beryllium disease as the primary cause of death, the suit states.

Each suit seeks damages in excess of $50,000.

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