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'Science' was just political smoke screen

By Ann Imse, News Staff Writer

Federal officials' 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 officials said.

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.

June 16, 2001

 
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