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Beryllium workers to get
compensation for suffering
Thursday, October 12, 2000
By CATHERINE GILFETHER
PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
LORAIN - Survivors of those exposed to beryllium, a chemical used to make nuclear weapons, are pleased to learn that the government plans to compensate them, but they say $150,000 may not be enough.
The compensation provisions were included in the compromise version of the Defense spending bill that passed the House yesterday and is expected before the Senate today.
"All in all, it’s better than nothing," said Mark DeSmith, of Avon. His grandfather Frank DeSmith had worked in the Brush Beryllium plant, which produced the chemical in the 1940s. DeSmith never knew his grandfather, who committed suicide in 1951, shortly after learning he had contracted a fatal lung illness from exposure to the chemical.
Exposure to beryllium fumes, dust or powder causes lung cancer and a fatal illness called chronic beryllium disease. In the 1940s, workers at the old Brush plant got sick from and died of exposure to what experts now say is one of the most toxic materials manufactured today.
The money is a lump-sum payment for victims of beryllium disease, or their surviving spouses or children. At least 21 workers from Brush may have been affected by the disease, though many of those have already died.
"I’m glad the government is giving compensation. It’s their way of saying, We’re sorry. Oops,’" said Amy Ryder, Cleveland-area director of Ohio Citizen Action, which has become involved in beryllium production issues. "But for people living with beryllium disease, $150,000 would barely pay for one hospital visit."
Ryder’s organization helped Lorain citizens spearhead a recent effort to get Brush Wellman to agree not to use or store beryllium in the city. Brush Wellman, in Cleveland, took over manufacture of the chemical after the Brush Beryllium plant burned down in 1948.
The current legislation is unfair, Ryder said, because people who take the compensation cannot sue the company. "It’s too bad it has to be either-or. Both the company and the government should be held liable," she said.
Kathy Tavenner, a Lorain city councilwoman who proposed the Brush Wellman beryllium ban, said, "Finally. This was an injustice to them. I’m kind of surprised it’s not more money."
Jeanne Riegel, whose mother-in-law, Violet, worked at the old Brush plant and died in 1981 at 67 of a lung ailment, said the compensation is at least an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. "It’s too bad it couldn’t have been done sooner when she was alive and could have gotten some good out of it," she said.
©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.