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Dr.: Early test went unfunded

Lack of industry push killed promising screen for beryllium sensitivity

By Sue Lindsay, News Staff Writer

A physician testified Friday that he was on the verge of developing a reliable screening test for beryllium sensitivity in the early '70s, but industry showed no interest in funding his research.

Dr. Sharad Deodhar testified in the Jefferson County trial of a lawsuit against beryllium supplier Brush Wellman Inc. of Cleveland by four workers now suffering a debilitating chronic lung disease. The workers are among more than 50 workers at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant who sued Brush Wellman over devastating lung disease blamed on breathing beryllium dust.

Deodhar said he developed a test in 1973 that showed that the white cells in some people reacted to beryllium, indicating a likelihood that they would later develop chronic beryllium disease if exposed to even very small amounts.

The test, however, needed to be perfected because it showed some false positives and 30 percent of persons with beryllium disease tested negative.

"We felt it should be developed as a screening test," Deodhar said. "We felt the major push should have come from industry but it didn't happen."

Deodhar's work eventually ceased and the test wasn't perfected for years, after others took up the research. The test is now used to screen workers susceptible to developing beryllium disease.

In other testimony, jurors were read the deposition of former Brush safety and environmental control manager Philip Wilson, who said he believed the government standard for beryllium exposure was safe for all workers. Wilson worked for Brush from 1965 to 1989.

He said he didn't know about workers, including office workers with minimal exposure to beryllium, who had gotten sick from levels well below the government standard.

"I thought the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) standard was a safe standard and had a safety factor built into it," he said. "My understanding was that the standard protected."

The trial, expected to last five more weeks, resumes Monday.

June 9, 2001

 
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