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Workers allege Brush hid beryllium danger

06/05/01

By THOMAS W. GERDEL

Jury selection began yesterday in a Colorado trial involving charges that Brush Wellman Inc. did not provide adequate safety warnings for workers when it supplied beryllium to a nuclear arms plant.

The plaintiffs include four workers at the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Brush Wellman, a Cleveland company, had shipped beryllium to the plant, where triggers for nuclear weapons were made until 1989.

The workers allege that Brush Wellman concealed information showing that workplace safety standards for beryllium did not protect workers. They also contend that the company knew that workers could contract chronic beryllium disease, which affects the lungs.

Pat Carpenter, a spokesman, said Brush Wellman could not comment on the specifics of the case, citing a judge's gag order. But he said the company denies the charges and will have a "vigorous defense."

According to court documents, lawyers for the company said that a tentative workplace standard set in 1949 warned that its guidelines might not protect all workers. Several government documents, including reports in the 1980s, also warned that the standard would not protect all people.

Internal company documents and declassified government material indicated that Brush Wellman knew as early as 1951 that workers were becoming sick when exposed to beryllium levels that were within the standard.

Workers allege that the federal government allowed the company to censor medical documents for years, including a report from its own medical director concluding that beryllium was one of the most deadly materials known to man.

E-mail: tgerdel@plaind.com Phone: 216-999-4114

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