July 1 - In the latest issue of the journal Public Health Reports, there is debate about the role that beryllium giant Brush Wellman played in stalling OSHA action on beryllium, and whether Brush waged a public relations campaign to minimize the hazards of the toxic metal.
In an article in the January-February 2008 issue of Public Health Reports, David Michaels and Celeste Monforton of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) explored how the beryllium industry fought efforts to lower workplace beryllium exposure limits, first by the Department of Energy (DOE) and then by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In “Beryllium’s Public Relations Problem: Protecting Workers When There is No Safe Exposure Level,” Michaels and Monforton criticized Brush Wellman for its efforts to prevent these agencies from lowering exposure limits for beryllium.
In the Letters to the Editor section of the journal’s July-August issue, Brush Welllman’s Marc Kolanz advances his company’s interpretation of the events. In their response, Michaels and Monforton note that “Kolanz’s letter [to PHR] is an excellent example of our article’s primary message -- that Brush has waged a concerted campaign over many years to refute the scientific evidence of the health hazards associated with beryllium exposure.”
In their original article, Michaels and Monforton discuss the work Hill and Knowlton, the public relations firm that that pioneered the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating doubt to avoid regulation, performed for Brush Wellman. Kolanz denies that Brush hired Hill and Knowlton, asserting
The best example of the authors’ skewed presentation of industry communications is their emphasis on the Hill and Knowlton professional media relations proposal submitted to Brush Wellman. Contrary to the authors’ statements, we did not hire Hill and Knowlton nor implement its proposal.
In their reply, Michaels and Monforton refute Kolanz’s claim:
Kolanz unequivocally asserts that Brush “did not hire Hill and Knowlton (H&K) nor implement their proposal.” The evidence we have for our reporting of Brush’s relationship with H&K is an invoice sent by the public relations firm to Brush (with accompanying note), the H&K public relations program proposal, an internal Brush memo talking about materials needed for the H&K initiative, a letter from Brush to H&K providing “supporting information for the PR program,” a series of letters developed by H&K for Brush to send to its customers reassuring them of the safety of beryllium, and copies of letters sent by Brush Wellman that include much of the text provided by H&K (with copies sent to H&K).
Many of the documents used by Michaels and Monforton to research the original article and to respond to Kolanz’s letter are posted on the SKAPP website so that readers can decide for themselves how these historical records should be interpreted.See also: SKAPP case study: Beryllium - Science or Public Relations?