Lately, we have all been reading stories in the newspaper of one corporate financial scandal after another. CEOs of some major corporations have routinely inflated profits and hidden losses in order to increase their own annual compensation packages. Other CEOs have treated corporate funds like personal bank accounts. Retirees have seen their pension funds dwindle, and investors who relied upon corporate earning statements have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Clearly, corporate fraud is an ongoing problem in our country. Even worse, corporate fraud is not confined to financial scandals but extends to matters of health and safety on the factory floor.
Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford represents three workers with disabling lung disease caused by workplace exposure to beryllium, a metal used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products, including weapons, electronics, and dental products. We are pursuing claims against companies that supplied and distributed beryllium to a Buffalo based business, Williams Advanced Materials, Inc. where our clients worked for over twenty years. The lawsuit against one of the distributors of beryllium, Brush Wellman, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, includes a claim that this company deliberately misled workers about the health effects of exposure to beryllium dust and fumes.
For over fifty years, Brush Wellman has been one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of beryllium containing alloys. Through an intensive investigation of the internal files of this corporation, we have learned that dozens of Brush’s own employees have developed chronic beryllium disease over the years. This is a shocking fact because Brush Wellman always held itself out as a leader, not only in the sale of beryllium containing materials but also in the field of industrial hygiene relating to beryllium exposure. Throughout its history, Brush Wellman has claimed that it maintained its own facilities in accordance with established exposure limits for beryllium dust and fumes. It has continually told workers that if they keep exposure below established limits that they will be able to work safely with beryllium alloys. In fact, Brush Wellman engaged in a lengthy campaign of dis-information about the safety of beryllium and beryllium containing alloys. This campaign has created a false sense of security among workers exposed to beryllium dust and fumes. In their lawsuit, our clients contend that Brush Wellman, through its president and other high ranking officers, intended to deceive workers by stating publicly that the company knew of no scientific evidence that exposure to beryllium below established limits would be hazardous. However, all along Brush Wellman’s own employees were developing chronic beryllium disease at exposures no greater than the established limits. It is our contention that Brush Wellman misrepresented the safety of beryllium because the company knew that if the truth came out, workers would choose not to work with beryllium, and this would have a negative impact on the profitable sale of beryllium.
Sadly, some corporations make money by engaging in financial frauds, while others preserve profits by sacrificing the health of workers.
Our investigation into Brush Wellman will continue into the next year.