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Worker testifies in injury lawsuit

Beryllium's danger kept secret, he says

By Stacie Oulton
Denver Post Staff Writer

Thursday, June 07, 2001 - GOLDEN - Ronald Roerish, a 59-year-old Boulder resident whose job once was to cast beryllium most every day at Rocky Flats, said he wished he'd been told that the metal was considered the most deadly element known to mankind.

"I would have had different feelings about working with it," Roerish testified Wednesday in Jefferson County District Court.

Suit alleges conspiracy

Roerish and three other workers from the former nuclear weapons plant west of Denver are suing Brush Wellman, an Ohio-based company that supplied beryllium to Rocky Flats. The four workers have chronic beryllium disease, a lung disease caused by the metal's dust. Roerish was the first of the four to testify.

He never knew that Brush Wellman's own medical director had in 1949 labeled the metal the most deadly element, because the company censored that information from a medical article, and the federal government let Brush do it, according to court records.

The lawsuit alleges that Brush and the government conspired to keep such information secret, even from Rocky Flats managers, to protect the production of beryllium for the nuclear weapons industry. Brush denies that.

Roerish still works at Rocky Flats. He testified with his oxygen tank resting near his shoulder. When asked if he would have taken the casting job if he had been told beryllium caused lung disease, he said yes. He just would have expected the company to fully inform him about what it knew.

"If we would have got all the right information from Brush Wellman, yes," Roerish testified.

He knew beryllium was hazardous and followed the plant's procedures of wearing a respirator any time he worked with the metal, he said. He believed the respirator protected him, although that might not have been the case.

Break room near shop

But the company showed that Roerish and other employees took breaks in a room adjacent to the beryllium shop, where the metal was machined. Workers walked through the machine shop without respirators to reach the break room, where they drank coffee and ate.

Roerish also was present when an oven, which was heating metal items, blew a top. He also testified that the Rocky Flats plant never provided any training on how to safely deal with beryllium until he moved on to other jobs at the plant.

Brush is blaming the workers' illnesses on Dow Chemical Co., Rockwell International and other companies that operated the plant for the government. Those companies failed to protect the workers because they didn't have safety devices such as proper ventilation in place, Brush claims.


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