Three more suits filed against Brush

December 16, 1999

Three more lawsuits have been filed against the Brush Wellman beryllium company, including one by the widow of Galen "Butch'' Lemke, who was a leading activist for victims of beryllium disease until he died of the illness in August.

"They basically took his life away from him," said Mr. Lemke's widow, Betty.

She said that one of Mr. Lemke's final wishes was for her to sue Brush Wellman after he died.

"I hope I've got enough guts to go through all of this," the Elmore resident said. "I could sit here and cry and cry."

The holiday season has been especially difficult, she said. "This is the worst time of the year, Christmastime. It is a horrible time of the year to think back."

Mr. Lemke was diagnosed with beryllium disease, a chronic lung illness, in 1970 and spent 15 years unable to breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank. Still, he became a leading activist for area beryllium victims.

When he died at 58, his obituary appeared in newspapers across the country.

Mrs. Lemke's lawsuit and two others were filed last week in Cleveland by Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, a Cincinnati law firm known for representing victims of plane crashes and other disasters. The law firm has now filed 10 suits against Brush Wellman since May, said Louise Roselle, a lawyer with the firm.

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

In March, a Blade series documented how the U.S. government and the beryllium industry, primarily Brush Wellman, knowingly allowed workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium, a metal critical to the production of nuclear weapons. As a result, dozens of workers contracted beryllium disease, an often-fatal lung illness caused by the metal's dust.

Brush spokesman Hugh Hanes said the company does not comment on pending suits. The company 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.

The recent suits were filed in Ohio's Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Suing are Mrs. Lemke, Dave Marko of Genoa, and David Norgard of Manitou Beach, Mich.

Mr. Marko's suit, an intentional tort claim, states he was diagnosed with beryllium disease in 1998 after working at the Elmore plant from 1980 to 1996. He spent time in a variety of jobs, including about 13 years in furnace operations.

He alleges he worked in parts of the plant where levels of beryllium dust were above the federal safety limit. Brush's conduct, the suit states, "was so extreme and outrageous as to exceed all possible bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious.''

Mr. Norgard's suit, a breach of contract claim, alleges Brush reneged on a written agreement that guaranteed his salary if he developed a beryllium-related disability. A former furnace operator at the Elmore plant, Mr. Norgard has beryllium disease. He previously filed an intentional tort suit against Brush.

Mrs. Lemke's suit, a wrongful death claim, states that her husband worked for Brush from 1959 to 1969 in several jobs, including grinder and engineering technician. The suit alleges he worked in several parts of the Elmore plant where ventilation was inadequate. In some plant operations, dust levels were more than twice the safety limit, the suit claims.

The Blade series featured Mr. Lemke and reported how he was overexposed to beryllium dust.

Mrs. Lemke's and Mr. Marko's suits seek damages in excess of $50,000. Mr. Norgard's suit seeks damages in excess of $25,000 in addition to back pay.

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