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Article published June 22, 2001

Regional News
Jury told Brush knew beryllium standard unsafe

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

Brush 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 risk.

"If the companies using beryllium knew the dangers, they would have taken adequate steps to protect [workers]," Mr. Stewart said.

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.
Nationwide, Brush Wellman is a defendant in 71 lawsuits involving 192 plaintiffs, said Patrick Carpenter, a Brush Wellman spokesman.

The jury's 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 safety standard.

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 required.

Fifteen of 17 test cloths smeared against walls found excessive amounts of beryllium, according to the report.

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.


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Related articles:
  • Beryllium workers’ witness denies try to force mistrial 06/20/2001
  • Backers push for timely aid to nuclear workers 04/22/2001
  • Labor Dept. will administer plan for sick nuclear workers 04/07/2001





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