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Vaughn Simon's letter to the Boy Scouts of America
January 24, 2001
Edward E Whitacre, Jr., President
Dear Mr. Whitacre,
Today, I discovered that the Boy Scouts of America is marketing jewelry made with the metal beryllium. I am shocked that anyone would market such jewelry, particularly an organization as socially responsible as the Boy Scouts.
I am sure that you had no idea how dangerous beryllium can be when you decided to offer these items. I would like to help you understand by relating my family's personal experience with beryllium.
My wife was working in a dental lab grinding and polishing tiny metal castings. Later she discovered that some of these castings contained up to 1.8% beryllium. Over a period of time she developed a series of symptoms that gradually grew worse and worse. In spite of the best efforts of her doctors, things progressed to the point where she had lost some 50 pounds, was coughing several times every waking minute, and was increasingly out of breath. Finally, thanks to some medical research by one of her doctors and a trip to a pulmonary hospital, she was diagnosed with Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD).
For now, with massive doses of steroids and troubling side effects, Margaret is able to function. CBD is a progressive and incurable lung disease. Eventually, it is likely that she will be permanently tethered to supplemental oxygen and be permanently disabled. Although her health had previously been much better than mine, I must now face the fact that this wonderful woman will likely precede me in death by many years.
In short, my wife's exposure to only a small amount of beryllium dust has stolen our future together. Rather than traveling and enjoying the fruits of our labor as per the American dream, the best retirement that we can hope for is that she remains alive and that we be essentially confined in our home.
Your suppliers will no doubt attempt to convince you that beryllium in the solid form is quite safe. Strictly speaking, except for a possibility of contact dermatitis, they are correct. But anyone who abrades this jewelry or decides to work on it is in danger of contracting an incurable, debilitating, possibly fatal disease.
Further, please consider the wider aspects of your decision. Is this jewelry made using strict industrial precautions as per OSHA guidelines so that you can be confident that the BSA is not indirectly responsible for more people ending up like my wife? What happens when this jewelry ends up in the waste stream? Most jewelry ends up being melted down eventually. There is presently no lower boundary where it is considered safe to work with beryllium alloys. Yet this metal will always eventually show up somewhere, usually without warning. Your introduction of beryllium to the consumer market could kill unknown people decades after your decision.
Spreading toxic materials fits nowhere in the Boy Scout's mission or values. Further, your organization does not need the probable adverse publicity or possible legal ramifications involved with the distribution of beryllium to a vulnerable public. I beg of you, please stop selling all beryllium products immediately and immediately recall all that you have sold to date.