Hearings on beryllium proposed

Pennsylvania congressman questions U.S. role in industry

U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.)
U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.)

A Pennsylvania congressman called yesterday for congressional hearings into the U.S. government's involvement in the beryllium industry.

U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski said that he is concerned that workers continue to become ill from the toxic metal.

"It's clearly an obligation of the government to remediate the problem," he said.

The Democrat said his call for hearings was sparked by The Blade's series "Deadly Alliance," which is describing how government and industry knowingly allowed thousands of workers in the private beryllium industry to be exposed to unsafe levels of the metal.

Mr. Kanjorski's district includes Hazleton, Pa., the site of a former beryllium plant. About a dozen former workers of the Hazleton plant have developed beryllium disease, a lung illness caused by inhaling the metal's dust.

In a letter late yesterday, Mr. Kanjorski asked U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R., Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs, and international relations, to have his panel hold hearings on the beryllium issue in May.

The Blade articles, Mr. Kanjorski wrote, "raise important questions about the U.S. government's involvement in occupational safety problems."

He called the beryllium problem "one of the sad postscripts to the Cold War."

The hearings, he told Mr. Shays, "would increase awareness of the causes and effects of the disease, the current medical diagnosis and treatment, the extent of the affected population, and the importance of taking measures to remedy the situation."

``The hearing would also demonstrate congressional concern for the plight of former beryllium workers."

Beryllium is a hard, lightweight metal that has been used for more than 50 years by the government in defense applications. It is used in nuclear weapons, missiles, and jet fighters.

It's not clear how many people have contracted beryllium disease.

Researchers cite 1,200 cases nationwide since the 1940s, but they say many other cases are misdiagnosed or undetected.

Locally, 50 current or former workers have contracted the disease at the Brush Wellman, Inc., beryllium plant outside Elmore. Twenty-six more have an abnormal blood test - a sign that they may develop the disease.

Mr. Kanjorski, a member of the House Government Reform Committee, said it will be up to Mr. Shays to schedule hearings.

Last month, Mr. Kanjorski proposed a bill that would compensate Americans suffering from beryllium disease.