Military exposed to toxic metal
Defense agency fails to screen for beryllium disease

Mar 3, 2002
Sam Roe, Chicago Tribune

U.S. military personnel have been exposed to the highly toxic metal beryllium at dozens of Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps facilities, with some levels exceeding legal safety limits, a Tribune investigation has found.

Despite the serious risks, the Department of Defense has ignored federal health guidelines by failing to provide simple blood tests to determine if workers have been harmed.

The Defense Department's inaction is in sharp contrast to steps taken by the Department of Energy, which has tested thousands of its weapons workers and discovered that hundreds of people have been harmed by beryllium, a lightweight metal whose dust can cause an often fatal lung disease.

The screening is highly recommended by federal health agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as by independent scientists and physicians.

Early detection is important because it allows treatments that can attempt to limit lung damage.

Beryllium disease has been found in virtually every industry in which the metal has been used.

Experts said that if the Defense Department were to provide the blood tests to its servicemen and women and civilian employees, many illnesses would be found.

"There are going to be cases of beryllium disease," said Dr. Milton Rossman, a University of Pennsylvania medical professor and a leading beryllium researcher.

"There's no question about it."

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