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Workers sacrificed, jurors told

By Stacie Oulton
Denver Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 13, 2001 - GOLDEN - Jurors on Tuesday heard a former energy secretary admit via videotape that the federal government conspired with an Ohio-based company to sacrifice workers' health at Rocky Flats.

The recorded statements by Bill Richardson, energy secretary under President Clinton, were played for the jury Tuesday in a Jefferson County civil case. Four Flats workers and their wives are suing Brush Wellman, the world's leading producer of beryllium, because the workers contracted chronic beryllium disease from the toxic metal.

"Priority one was the production of our nuclear weapons. As a last priority was the safety and health of the workers that built these weapons," Richardson said in an interview on ABC's "20/20" last fall.

Attorneys for Brush Wellman tried to prevent the tape from being shown, and also tried to get ABC's unedited version of the interview. But Jefferson County District Judge Frank Plaut ruled against the company.

Attorneys for the Rocky Flats workers and Brush were unsuccessful in forcing Richardson to testify or to give a sworn statement about what he knew.

Richardson acknowledged in the television interview that the Department of Energy "cut a deal" with Brush Wellman to ensure the company would keep producing the lightweight metal for weapons. In return, the Energy Department actively opposed an effort by a different federal agency to tighten safety standards for workers' exposure.

The secretary called the deal "wrong." Previous testimony in the case showed that Brush threatened to stop production in 1979 unless it received the help of the Energy Department to stop a tougher safety standard from being implemented. The company also received a 35 percent price increase as part of the deal.

The lawsuit alleges that Brush and the government covered up the fact that the safety standard did not protect workers from the disabling lung disease. Richardson called the collusion between the two "incredible."

"I think they feel their government let them down," he said of the workers.

Attorneys for the workers also introduced evidence showing that Brush had a medical book published, which it distributed across the country, that contained false information about what caused chronic beryllium disease. The company also said in internal documents that it had to support the safety standard to protect itself from lawsuits.

On another issue, Plaut may punish David Egilman, a Boston doctor, for publishing statements on his Web site accusing the judge of being in the company's pocket. Plaut said the statements violated a gag order.


 

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