Editorial: One standard for all
December 13, 1999
The announcement by the federal government of tougher controls on beryllium exposure doesn't help the hundreds of people, including many here in northwest Ohio, who have been diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease. But the new standards should make federal weapons plants safer places in the future, and that's obviously a step in the right direction.
Admitting that workers have for years been exposed to unsafe levels, the U.S. Department of Energy is to set a standard 10 times more stringent than that currently in place. The existing standard was instituted back in 1949.
The new standard will apply only to employees working under federal contract at weapons plants, so it does not affect the employees at Brush Wellman's plant near Elmore. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does set standards at such plants and should waste no time following DOE's lead and enacting the same tougher standards. OSHA has acknowledged that the existing 2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air appears to be "too high to prevent chronic beryllium disease.'' So there's no point in delay.
It is unconscionable that OSHA would permit workers in the plants under its purview to be exposed to higher levels of the potentially fatal beryllium dust than at plants under the auspices of the Energy Department. One standard for all. That's the only right way.
Although much remains to be done to protect workers who are still employed in the nuclear weapons industry from beryllium disease, the progress has been considerable since The Blade earlier this year published a six-part series on the exposure of workers to unsafe levels of the potentially deadly dust.
With pressure mounting in Washington in the wake of the series' publication, legislation has been proposed to compensate workers for lost wages and for medical care, and to compensate families of lost workers.
As Toledo's Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur noted on The Editors program Friday, the legislative battle for federal benefits goes on.
Let's hope it doesn't go on much longer. Rarely has there been a clearer case of workers who are so obviously deserving of both assistance and compensation for what they have suffered.