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Group Seeks Strict Rules on Beryllium

WASHINGTON (AP) A watchdog group wants government to lower the amount of the metal beryllium that U.S. workers can be exposed to while on the job. The metal has been linked to a fatal lung disease.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit group founded by Ralph Nader, argues that the current standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are lax and put workers at risk.

The metal is used in electronics, recycling, machining and dental industries because it is lightweight and resilient. Public Citizen wants the exposure standard for beryllium particles changed from 2 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

``OSHA's failure to adopt a standard that will protect workers from unnecessary beryllium exposure is unconscionable,'' said Peter Lure, director of Public Citizen's health research group. ``Every day the agency ignores this issue, tens of thousands of workers are needlessly exposed to this life-threatening hazard.''

Public Citizen said it was filing a petition with OSHA seeking the changes. OSHA spokeswoman Bonnie Friedman said the agency had not received the petition as of Friday afternoon and declined to comment on it.

Public Citizen is also asking for rules that would mandate annual blood testing for all workers who deal with the metal.

Beryllium disease once was associated primarily with the defense industry, where the metal was used in nuclear weapons, but it is increasingly common among workers in private and consumer industries.

The disease, caused when the metal's dust slowly damages the lungs of people who have been exposed, is rare, incurable and often fatal.

The number of beryllium disease cases among workers in private industries has increased in the past few years, according to the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, a leading respiratory disease hospital.

The Labor Department is providing compensation for workers who contracted beryllium disease while working at weapons plants. The law provides medical care and $150,000 to sick workers.

On The Net:

Public Citizen: http://www.citizen.org/

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: http://www.osha.gov/

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