Ex-Rocky Flats workers say firm's
medical director misrepresented the cause of chronic
disease in 1983
The medical director
of the nation's only beryllium producer misrepresented
in a scientific publication the cause of chronic
beryllium disease suffered by 11 neighbors of a company
factory, according to evidence presented in Jefferson
County District Court on Monday.
Former Rocky Flats workers are suing Brush Wellman
Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, claiming it conspired with the
government to hide the dangers of beryllium used in
manufacturing nuclear weapons.
On Monday, their attorneys presented a scientific
publication authored in 1983 by Dr. Otto Preuss, medical
director of Brush Wellman. Preuss reported that all
neighbors of the company factory in Lorain, Ohio, who
became ill had been in contact with the
beryllium-contaminated clothing of workers.
In fact, only one of the 11 sick neighbors had washed
clothing, according to testimony from Merril Eisenbud,
the industrial hygienist who conducted the study 50
years ago. Testimony from Eisenbud read to the jury said
he calculated the neighbors had been exposed by air to
only about 0.1 to 1 microgram per cubic meter of air,
substantially less than the 2 micrograms still set as
the maximum safe exposure today.
Eisenbud also testified that he and a colleague
created the 2-microgram standard merely to help the
designer of a new beryllium machine shop in 1949.
Although they had given it weeks of thought, the two men
settled on 2 micrograms instead of 5 micrograms during a
taxi ride to the machine-shop site on Long Island.
"I never thought I'd be defending it 50 years later,"
Asked if there was an "epidemiological basis" for the
2-microgram standard, Eisenbud, an engineer by training,
About 50 people are suing Brush Wellman. The hearing
is focusing on four workers to decide whether Brush
Wellman is liable before the court goes into the details
of the other workers' exposure and illness.
Attorneys for Brush Wellman won admissions from
Eisenbud that in the early 1980s, he did think the
2-microgram standard protected workers because the
number of cases had dropped off dramatically.
But Eisenbud said he then reviewed the case registry
and found too many victims in whom the exposure could
have been less, including about a dozen secretaries.
Then the number of cases jumped again, perhaps due to
more sophisticated diagnosis, he said.
Eisenbud also testified that Brush Wellman executives
were very cooperative in researching the effect of
beryllium exposure during his original studies in the
Plaintiffs presented an internal Brush Wellman memo
from 1981 stating that more industries would use
beryllium if not for its toxicity.
The memo from R.A. Foos goes on to say the company
had been fighting for three to five years to fend off a
"gross, detrimental and unreasonable standard" for
exposure. That proposal from the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration was 0.1 micrograms per cubic
The workers' attorneys provided additional evidence
that Defense and Energy department officials shut down
that OSHA attempt.
They presented a Brush Wellman letter detailing a
deal in which "DOE and DOD would exert their best
efforts to have OSHA reconsider its proposed unrealistic
beryllium standard." Brush Wellman agreed not to quit
the business abruptly and leave Rocky Flats without a
critical ingredient for nuclear weapons.