published June 22, 2001Regional
Jury told Brush knew beryllium
GOLDEN, Colo. - Beryllium producer Brush Wellman
created an unacceptable standard for worker exposure to the metal
and defended it to protect profits, an attorney for workers suing
the Cleveland-based company told jurors yesterday.
Wellman, the only company that processes beryllium, knew that the
federal exposure standard of 2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic
meter of air was not safe and that workers continued to get sick
from exposure to the metal, attorney Allen Stewart said. But he said
the company covered up that information, leaving workers at
"If the companies using beryllium knew the dangers,
they would have taken adequate steps to protect [workers]," Mr.
Four workers at the former Rocky Flats nuclear
weapons plant and their spouses are suing the company, claiming they
were sickened by exposure to the beryllium, a metal used in the
defense, automotive and electronics industries. Long-term exposure
to its dust can cause a fatal lung disease.
Wellman is a defendant in 71 lawsuits involving 192 plaintiffs, said
Patrick Carpenter, a Brush Wellman spokesman.
verdict in Jefferson County District Court is expected to influence
possible settlements in other cases.
The case's first phase
was expected to go to the jury early today with damages later. Brush
Wellman says the federal government did not do enough to prevent
workers from getting sick.
Company lawyers said Wednesday the
plant let workers breathe amounts of beryllium higher than the
The defense presented 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 each year as
Fifteen of 17 test cloths smeared against walls
found excessive amounts of beryllium, according to the
In 1999 The Blade documented a 50-year pattern of
misconduct by the federal government and the beryllium industry.
Among the findings: Government and industry officials knowingly
allowed workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust.
The series sparked major safety reforms.
About 1,200 people
nationwide have contracted beryllium disease, a fatal lung ailment,
since the 1940s, including at least 75 present or former workers at
the Brush Wellman plant near Elmore.