Global Security Newswire
A U.S. nuclear weapon laboratory failed to promptly tell workers last year that they might have been exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium during a four-year project, the Contra Costa Times reported Saturday (see GSN, March 28, 2002).
Beryllium metal, a nuclear weapon component, can trigger a potentially fatal lung disease in a small number of people who are exposed to the material.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in 2002 began to structurally reinforce a machine shop at the site, located in a seismically active part of the world.
The project ended in December 2006, and elevated levels of beryllium were detected in the shop in February 2007. Additional testing in July 2007 confirmed the higher levels. Only then did the laboratory inform the seismic contractor of the test results, and the shop was later closed in September.
“We absolutely could have and should have informed the employees about this sooner,” laboratory spokeswoman Susan Houghton said. “This is something the lab management finds unacceptable” (see GSN, Oct. 3, 2007).
Exposure to beryllium can cause some people to develop beryllium sensitivity, which in turn can trigger chronic beryllium disease, an incurable lung condition that can lead to death, the Times reported (Betsy Mason, Contra Costa Times, Feb. 2).