November 17, 1998
Mr. Robert L. Bartley, Editor
The Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281
This is in response to a recent opinion essay by Michael Fumento, which attempted to debunk the Nashville Tennessean's ongoing investigation into illnesses among workers and residents near America's nuclear sites. Mr. Fumento was quite emphatic in the denial of any of the allegations being true. I beg to differ.
I am a 50 year old machinist at the Oak Ridge (TN) Operations Y-12
nuclear weapons plant, where I have been employed since 1968. I began to
experience breathing difficulty around 1980, which was diagnosed as
asthma. I did not have asthma as a child. After specific testing, I was
diagnosed with Chronic Beryllium Disease in 1993. CBD is an occupational
disease, resulting from exposure to Beryllium, an element used in metallic
and ceramic form in the nuclear and other industries. CBD affects mostly
the lungs, and is considered to have an approximately 25% fatality rate.
My own symptoms range from mild to quite severe, and often require
hospitalization. CBD is treatable but incurable. Y-12 has over 80 cases of
Beryllium disease and sensitization, and testing continues. One of our
sister plants, East Tennessee Technology Park (the former K-25 Plant)
which is featured prominently in the Tennessean's articles, has documented
Beryllium disease cases, and has only begun to test. The Rocky Flats site,
near Denver, has over a hundred such cases. Hanford, WA, released
confirmation of its first cases only recently. Every site which has worked
the toxic material and has done specific testing, has found the disease.
Much can be learned about the disease on the Rocky Flats Beryllium Support
Group homepage at
The ill workers and residents featured in the Tennessean's articles have not had the fortune of such specific testing, so their symptoms are brushed aside as "non-specific", or having "no proven work-relatedness". As I mentioned, my own case was misdiagnosed until specific testing proved otherwise. These other victims of the Cold War deserve the same.
The post-Cold War nuclear sites are undergoing multi-million dollar cleanup and remediation operations. If there is no threat to the environment or human health, why is all this effort and money being expended? And if the threat is real, is it not possible that it is, and has been a reality already?
504 Michigan Ave.
Oak Ridge, TN 37830