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Judge angered by Web posting

Expert witness for Rocky Flats workers violated gag order

By Ann Imse, News Staff Writer

A judge threatened Tuesday to sanction Rocky Flats workers with beryllium disease because their expert witness violated the judge's gag order on his Web site.

Rocky Flats workers are suing beryllium producer Brush Wellman Inc. of Cleveland. The workers allege that the company conspired with the federal government to conceal the danger of the extremely toxic metal so the government would have beryllium to make nuclear weapons.

Jefferson County District Court Judge Frank Plaut said he may let the jury know just how "intemperate" expert witness Dr. David Egilman was in criticizing the beryllium producer's attorneys, so they can decide whether he is a credible expert.

Plaut ordered everyone involved in the case not to talk -- or post anything on a Web site -- because the current phase of the trial covers only the first eight of 55 plaintiffs. He said he wanted no outside commentary to influence the current or future juries.

The judge said Egilman's Web site referred to Brush Wellman attorneys from the Dallas law firm of Jones Day. One headline read, "New Jones Day Dirt" and mentioned possible criminal activity. The judge called the posting "a flagrant violation" of his gag order.

Egilman is a Brown University professor and frequent expert witness on the health damages of asbestos and beryllium. He has aided victims and infuriated targets by posting incriminating documents on his Web site. His www.egilman.com Web site was password-restricted on Tuesday.

Egilman testified in the beryllium trial last Thursday that Brush Wellman planted articles in medical journals claiming the metal was safe.

On Tuesday, plaintiffs' attorneys backed up that assertion with a memo from Brush Wellman's safety manager detailing a plan to discredit the science of its critics and substitute its own.

The 1987 memo called for company doctors to write articles for prestigious scientific publications bolstering their insistence that people could work in 2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air without danger of chronic beryllium disease.

The memo also called for "critical review" by company scientists of "very damaging" publications by other scientists that said beryllium disease could occur at lower levels of exposure, and that beryllium might be associated with lung cancer.

By the early 1990s, Rocky Flats was no longer producing nuclear weapons. Reduced government demand for beryllium combined with "hysteria" over the toxic effects of beryllium raised the possibility of Brush Wellman going out of business, according to a memo from vice president Hugh Hanes.

In the same memo, Hanes admitted some processes in the company's factories could not meet even the 2-microgram standard -- even though Brush Wellman had been claiming to meet that standard for decades.

The plaintiffs wrapped up Tuesday with a taped ABC interview with former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson admitting the Department of Energy had opposed attempts to tighten the limit on beryllium exposure in the 1970s. Richardson said at that time, the first priority was building nuclear bombs and "the last priority was safety and health."

"The collusion between the contractor and the DOE . . . was incredible," Richardson said. "A deal was cut, and that's wrong."

Attorneys for Brush Wellman presented testimony from former Rocky Flats machinist Theodore Ziegler that he worked in the beryllium building at Rocky Flats without being told of its dangers or to use a respirator to protect himself.

Ziegler also said he was not told in 1983 that the machine shop had exceeded the 2-microgram standard 94 times that year.


Contact Ann Imse at (303) 892-5438 or imse@RockyMountainNews.com.

June 13, 2001

 
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