Rocky Flats plant bears lion's share,
Brush Wellman Inc. tried to shift blame to Rocky Flats
Thursday in hopes of reducing the amount the company may
have to pay nuclear plant workers suffering from chronic
About 50 Rocky Flats workers suing the Cleveland
manufacturer claim the company conspired with the
federal government to hide the dangerous effects of
breathing even minute amounts of beryllium.
The conspiracy was based on the government's need for
the metal to make nuclear weapons at Rocky Flats, the
workers lawsuit in Jefferson County District Court
If Brush Wellman attorneys can persuade the jury that
their client bears only 20 percent of any liability,
then Brush Wellman will have to pay only 20 percent of
If that strategy is successful, the compensation
workers might receive would be considerably slashed.
They could not get the remainder from Rocky Flats and
its former operators, Rockwell International and Dow
Chemical. As employers, they are no longer liable for
paying damages because they have already paid workers'
The jury may decide on liability as soon as next
week. If it finds there is liability, a second phase of
the trial will set damages for the first four workers
and their spouses.
But this is just the first of 76 beryllium disease
cases filed against Brush Wellman across the country.
The jury's decision is expected to influence both sides
in deciding whether to settle the claims of a total of
The last beryllium disease case ended favorably for
Brush Wellman a decade ago, a company spokesman said.
But that was before the federal government
declassified numerous documents used by the plaintiffs
to make their case in Jefferson County. They are arguing
that Atomic Energy Commission and Brush Wellman
officials knew that less than 2 micrograms of beryllium
per cubic meter of air could cause the wasting lung
disease in a small percentage of the population.
Brush Wellman countered Thursday with testimony from
occupational health expert Dr. Mark Van Ert of the
University of Arizona. He said that Rocky Flats
repeatedly violated that 2-microgram standard year after
He also testified that Rocky Flats documented the
problems, but did not fix them during the 1970s and
1980s, when the plaintiffs were exposed to beryllium.
Plaintiffs' attorneys countered by confronting him
with Brush Wellman documents, which claimed the disease
occurred only after exposures of 30 to 50 micrograms.