Senate slates beryllium hearing in Ohio

May 13, 2000

A U.S. Senate hearing will be held in Columbus on Monday to discuss how best to compensate ailing weapons workers, including Toledo-area workers harmed by the metal beryllium.

The field hearing will be held by Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine for the Senate subcommittee on employment, safety, and training. Those scheduled to testify include Dr. David Michaels, the U.S. Energy Department's top health official; Hugh Hanes, vice president for government affairs for the Brush Wellman beryllium company; and Richard Miller, policy analyst for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union.

The hearing will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the Rhodes State Office Tower. The public may attend but not speak. Written comments will be accepted.

Earlier this week, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, introduced legislation to compensate workers harmed by radiation, beryllium, and other hazardous substances while building America's nuclear arsenal. Senator DeWine, also a Republican, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Last year The Blade published a six-part series that exposed a 50-year pattern of misconduct by the U.S. government and the beryllium industry - wrongdoing that caused the injuries and deaths of dozens of workers producing the strategic metal. After the series was published, the Clinton administration announced a compensation plan.

tx900 DeWine spokesman Charles Boesel said one purpose of the hearing is to discuss the different proposals. He said the hearing could raise awareness to help move a compensation bill through Congress.

Mr. Boesel said the hearing will address compensating Energy Department contract workers who have been harmed at various Ohio sites, as well as people who have become sick after working at the Brush Wellman beryllium plant near Elmore. "It's an Ohio issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

Brush Wellman has historically supplied beryllium to the government for use in nuclear bombs and other weapons. Beryllium dust can cause an incurable, often-fatal lung disease. At least 75 current or former workers at Brush's Elmore plant have developed the illness. Workers also have gotten sick at former beryllium plants in Cleveland, Lorain, and Luckey.

One environmental leader said she was upset that a Brush Wellman official is scheduled to testify but not a beryllium disease victim.

"You need to include those who have been affected and who are suffering,'' said Sarah Ogdahl of Ohio Citizen Action, a statewide environmental group.

Mr. Boesel said a beryllium victim had been scheduled to testify but dropped out. A daughter of a victim will testify instead.

Democrat Ted Celeste, who is running against Mr. DeWine for his Senate seat, criticized the senator for holding a hearing in Columbus and not in a community where workers have been harmed. "If they are serious about it, they should come up" to the Toledo area, he said.

Mr. Boesel said the Columbus location makes sense because the hearing addresses ailing weapons workers throughout Ohio. He added: "We haven't ruled out any additional hearings.''

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