Brush Wellman Inc. ended its defense Wednesday without
confronting evidence that it colluded with the federal
government in the late 1970s to stop OSHA's attempt to
tighten safety standards for beryllium.
Some 32 people with chronic beryllium disease and
their spouses have sued Brush Wellman, claiming it is
responsible for causing the illness, which saps the
ability to breathe. They say the company conspired with
the federal government to conceal the dangers of
beryllium because it was needed to make nuclear weapons
throughout the Cold War.
The plaintiffs say Brush Wellman knew workers who
breathed less than the federal standard of 2 micrograms
of beryllium per cubic meter of air were becoming ill.
They also say the company conspired to prevent the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration from
raising the standard in the 1970s by threatening to halt
the supply of beryllium to the Rocky Flats nuclear
weapons plant. The only other producer had just dropped
out of the business.
Defense attorneys said Brush Wellman had good reason
to believe the existing safety standard prevented
beryllium disease. They also tried to shift blame to
Rocky Flats, saying it allowed its workers to breathe
amounts of beryllium higher than the standard.
The first part of the case, determining Brush
Wellman's liability for the first eight plaintiffs, will
go to final arguments today in Jefferson County District
Court. Damages, if any, will be determined in a second
On Wednesday, the defense read to the jury a 1984
Department of Energy inspection of the Rocky Flats
beryllium shop that found inadequate ventilation, poor
housekeeping, erratic training and respirators fitted
every four years instead of yearly as required.
Fifteen of 17 test cloths smeared against walls found
excessive amounts of beryllium, the report said.
Defense attorneys also tried to show that the
plaintiffs in this first phase -- four Rocky Flats
beryllium disease victims and their spouses -- failed to
meet Colorado's two-year statute of limitations. They
were diagnosed, and filed workers' compensation cases
against Rocky Flats many years before the case against
Brush Wellman was filed in 1996.