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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Calls for Greater Oversight at Nuclear Labs to Prevent Beryllium Exposure

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December 10, 2008

Yesterday, POGO sent a letter to the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Health, Safety, and Security (HSS) urging it to provide oversight and enforcement of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) beryllium exposure prevention policies.  These policies were designed to prevent Lab workers' exposure to beryllium, which can lead to the development of the incurable and potentially fatal lung disease, chronic beryllium disease.

POGO had previously received a tip suggesting that ORNL is not in compliance with its beryllium prevention plan.  ORNL's plan was born out of Beryllium Controls at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a damning 2006 DOE Inspector General (IG) report which found that ORNL "did not properly manage activities relating to beryllium contamination."  POGO's letter expressed concern that HSS did not follow up on these issues when they were previously brought to the office's attention.

"We are concerned that policies to protect workers are not being enforced," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian.  "DOE should investigate these concerns, rather than off-handedly dismissing them."

Stringent beryllium controls are not only an important issue at ORNL, but at almost all of the Labs in the nuclear weapons complex.  For example, since 1991, Sandia National Lab has had 59 occurrences with beryllium.  At Livermore Lab, weak beryllium controls resulted in five beryllium related events over the last 18 months, including a case where both lab and subcontracted workers may have been exposed to beryllium for years without their knowledge and without precautionary measures in place.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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