** Victory **
Herron Testing Laboratories:
Cleveland company exposing workers to beryllium

Photos: Set #1, Set #2

         

Herron Testing Laboratories tests copper beryllium for Brush Wellman by sanding, grinding and polishing the alloy. This creates toxic beryllium dust and puts Herron workers in danger of developing beryllium disease.

To protect workers from beryllium, Herron should have been providing training, protective clothing, ventilation, respirators and air monitoring.

Moreover, by allowing their employees to leave work with beryllium dust on their clothes, Herron has also risked the health of the workers' immediate families. Some spouses of beryllium workers elsewhere have contracted beryllium disease through beryllium exposure when they handled or washed their husband's work clothes.

As a result of employee complaints and pressure from Ohio Citizen Action, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspected the Cleveland laboratory in May and June, 2000. On July 6, OSHA cited Herron for not notifying their employees of the hazardous materials they were working with, for not providing training on how to handle toxic materials, and for allowing employees to eat and drink in a toxic environment (Citation excerpts, detail).

After the OSHA citation and 2,000 letters from Ohio Citizen Action members, Herron Testing Laboratories made significant changes inside their facility:

  • The company has agreed to pay for medical testing for their machinists to determine if they are in danger for developing beryllium disease.
  • A chemical hygiene plan is in place to notify workers what hazardous chemicals they work with and how to handle those chemicals safely.
  • The company is laundering the workers uniforms to reduce the risk of exposure by family members.
  • Workers have notified Ohio Citizen Action that the beryllium alloys are now machined through a wet process, which dramatically reduces airborne dust and thus reduces the worker's risk for exposure.
  • Former workers have sought legal representation to ensure Herron pays for their medical testing for beryllium sensitivity.

In addition to medical testing for their machinists, Herron should also offer medical testing to all current and former employees, as well as any family members who could have been exposed to beryllium dust through dirty work clothes.

Beryllium: A deadly metal

Beryllium is a hard, lightweight metal used in the defense industry, the automotive industry, the dental industry, electronics, golf clubs, computers and cellular phones. Brush Wellman, Inc. is the largest manufacturer of beryllium in the country. Headquartered in Cleveland, Brush has a processing plant in Elmore, near Toledo.

Working with beryllium creates a toxic dust. People exposed to beryllium dust can develop chronic beryllium disease or develop lung cancer. Beryllium disease is often fatal and there is no cure. Over 1,200 Americans have contracted this disease, according to researchers estimates. In Ohio, at least 75 current or former Brush Wellman workers have the disease and 17 have died. An additional 55 Brush workers have an abnormal blood test - a sign they may develop the illness.

Government health officials and industry leaders have known for more than 50 years that the safety standards for beryllium are inadequate. Last September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a hazardous information bulletin to warn workers that the current safety standards may not protect their health. Despite this finding, the Administration has yet to strengthen the safety standard and Brush Wellman continues to fight to keep the standard the same.

Brush Wellman workers are not the only workers who risk developing beryllium disease. Some contract workers at beryllium plants, dental lab technicians, and automotive manufacture workers have also developed beryllium disease.