Jury gets beryllium case; could
affect other disease lawsuits
Jefferson County jury began deliberating Friday in a
case that could help determine the future of dozens of
beryllium-disease lawsuits from workers at Rocky Flats
and other companies across the nation.
Lawyers for those suffering from the disease told the
jurors that beryllium should have contained this
warning: "Do not use this product without using a glove
box, or a space suit."
Brush Wellman Inc. of Cleveland, the last remaining
beryllium producer, should be held liable for allegedly
causing chronic beryllium disease in 32 people who
worked for the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant
or Coors Porcelain, the attorneys said.
While only the first four workers and their spouses
are covered under the case being decided, the results
will help determine liability for the remaining 47
plaintiffs and are expected to influence another 75
pending beryllium-disease lawsuits against Brush Wellman
Brush Wellman attorney Sydney McDole argued that the
company put warning labels on all its beryllium products
but Rocky Flats clerks removed them.
As a result, workers who ground, polished and molded
beryllium at Rocky Flats had no idea that 1 to 5 percent
of those who breathed in the metallic element would
contract a wasting lung disease.
Plaintiffs' attorney Allen Stewart said Brush
Wellman's warnings were defective because they gave no
hint how dangerous even an infinitesimal amount of
beryllium could be.
The labels didn't say, "the most deadly element known
to mankind," Stewart told the jury. "They didn't say,
'The dust you can't see can kill you. The fumes you
can't smell can kill you.' "
For 50 years, Brush Wellman told the public that no
one would come down with chronic beryllium disease if
the factory kept beryllium dust to 2 micrograms per
cubic meter of air. That's the equivalent of a ground-up
pencil tip scattered across a football field of air six
In fact, Brush Wellman and federal officials knew in
the 1940s that even less than that could kill, Stewart
said. He claims the company and government officials
conspired to keep the information secret so beryllium
needed to make nuclear weapons would be available and
Brush Wellman's private sector customers would not be
McDole argued that Rocky Flats and its operators,
Rockwell International and Dow Chemical, were
responsible for the workers' illness because they failed
to provide enough ventilation, training and respirators.
"We believe Dow should be here, we believe Rockwell
should be here -- not us," she said.
Stewart said Rocky Flats would have used glove boxes
to handle beryllium if Brush Wellman had told them to do
so, or if it had published all it knew.
The plaintiffs asked the jury to find Brush Wellman
80 percent liable and its former competitor, Berylco, 20
percent liable. Berylco is out of business, so its share
would fall on Brush Wellman if the jury agrees there was
a conspiracy, McDole said.
She asked the jury to solely blame Rocky Flats
operators. The jury was not told that would mean
plaintiffs would receive no payment becase Rocky Flats
companies are paying workmen's compensation to the
victims, and do not have to pay further damages.