claim of "not (having) enough science" to tighten safety
standards for beryllium workers really means they were
halted by political pressure, according to evidence
produced Friday in a Jefferson County trial.
Some 55 people are suing beryllium producer Brush
Wellman Inc. of Cleveland, claiming it conspired with
the federal government to hide the dangers of the metal,
because it was needed to produce nuclear weapons. The
plaintiffs include Rocky Flats and Coors Porcelain
workers with chronic beryllium disease.
Plaintiffs' attorneys introduced documents in which
officials of the Occupational Health and Safety
Administration told General Accounting Office
investigators that they had been trying to tighten the
standard for exposure to beryllium since the 1970s. But
Brush Wellman, the departments of Energy and Defense and
the White House all pressured them to stop, the
OSHA gave up, saying publicly that science couldn't
prove beryllium was a carcinogen. But the OSHA officials
said that was a "smoke screen" and there was really
plenty of evidence.
"OSHA officials said typically the argument of 'not
enough science' is used when there are other political
agendas for stopping OSHA from promulgating
regulations," according to the GAO.
Plaintiffs previously presented evidence that Brush
Wellman threatened to halt production of beryllium if
OSHA tightened the exposure standard.
Also Friday, beryllium disease specialist Dr. Lee
Newman of the National Jewish Medical and Research
Center testified Brush Wellman could have saved lives by
revealing all that it knew.
If Brush Wellman had admitted that it knew of cases
where victims had breathed less than than the legal
limit of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, "It would
have had a dramatic effect," he said.
Many of his own 200 patients would not have come down
with beryllium disease, "because it would have changed
the way we control exposure," he said.
Brush attorneys defended their client with evidence
that numerous scientists did publish papers casting
doubt on the exposure standard during the past 50 years.
But OSHA has still not changed the standard, despite
what Newman described as a consensus in the medical
community that 2 micrograms is far too high to protect
the people who are genetically disposed to the disease.