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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2001

Beryllium workers' witness denies try to force mistrial

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GOLDEN, Colo. - An occupational health historian who testified on behalf of former nuclear facility workers who say they were sickened by beryllium denied he violated a gag order.

A state judge threw out David Egilman's testimony Monday after being told the Brown University professor made comments about the case on his web site and threatened to deliberately cause a mistrial.

Judge Frank Plaut threatened to punish the plaintiffs by removing their lead lawyers. But he denied the defense motion for a mistrial in the case, in which 55 people are suing Brush Wellman, Inc. of Cleveland.

Beryllium is used in a variety of products, despite growing evidence that breathing the tiniest amount can bring on an incurable, wasting lung ailment.

Mr. Egilman's site accuses Brush Wellman's law firm of criminal activity and makes references to a company medical director being educated in Nazi Germany. Portions of its content were read by Judge Plaut in the courtroom.

Mr. Egilman said he did not violate the order because he required a password for access to the web site. He said defense lawyers hacked into the site. The jury did not hear discussion about the site and was told to disregard his testimony.

The workers say Brush Wellman conspired with the federal government to conceal the dangers of beryllium for 50 years because it was needed to make nuclear weapons at the Rocky Flats facility. It is the first of 76 lawsuits filed against Brush Wellman by 200 beryllium victims across the country. The jury's verdict is expected to influence whether settlements should be made in other cases.

In 1999, The Blade documented a 50-year pattern of misconduct by the federal government and the beryllium industry. Among the findings: Government and industry officials knowingly allowed workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust. The series sparked major safety reforms.

About 1,200 people nationwide have contracted beryllium disease, a fatal lung ailment, since the 1940s, including at least 75 present or former workers at the Brush Wellman plant near Elmore.



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