19. "Warning: National Security May be Hazardous
to Your Health"
In 1968, Health, Education and Welfare Officials were informed by private
research sources that exposure to the metal beryllium could cause fatal
respiratory disease and cancer. After months went by without government
action (beryllium is a critical component in aerospace and nuclear industries),
a Massachusetts researcher threatened to make her findings public. At
that point, a senior HEW official wrote a memo, warning: "This
would be a bombshell if her views would ever get into print." To
avoid such a bombshell, the government initiated its own tests, and
when they found strong evidence of the metal's danger as a human poison
and carcinogen, they ordered more tests.
Finally in 1976, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) concluded that perhaps the 30,000 workers who
are exposed to beryllium dust and fumes should have more protection.
They proposed new regulations cutting worker exposure from two micrograms
to one microgram per cubic meter of air.
The two companies that produce beryllium insisted that they could not
meet the proposed standard with current technology. Suddenly, HEW started
getting calls from industrialists and politicians, strongly suggesting
the proposed new standards were ill-advised: Senator John Glenn, whose
home state of Ohio manufactures the product, began badgering Joseph
A. Califano, Jr., HEW Secretary, for an independent review of the whole
Subsequently, James R. Schlesinger, now head of the Department of Energy,
wrote Ray Marshall, Secretary of Labor, saying that a study by his department
concluded that the cost of meeting the proposed exposure standards for
beryllium would drive the only two non-Communist producers of the metal
out of business.
"The loss of beryllium production capability would seriously impact
our ability to develop and produce weapons for the nuclear stockpile
and, consequently, adversely affect our national security," wrote
Thus, the issue of national security, not corporate profits, took precedence
over the health and lives of 30,000 American workers.
The lack of public awareness of this issue as well as the potential
danger to 30,000 workers and probably more Americans qualifies this
story to be nominated as one of the "best censored" stories
Esquire, November, 1978, p. 122, "Warning: National Security May
Be Hazardous to Your Health," by Edward Sorel.