Berylium’s Slow Death

A few decades ago, while on a research assignment for National Geographic books, I met Herb Anderson, one of the builders of the atom bomb. He was living in a ranch house just outside of Los Alamos. Despite all the success that he and his fellow scientists had in nuclear physics, recievi9ng awards, and congratulations of his peers and high government officials, one thing he didn’t have was good health.

Anderson’s breathing was difficult and labored from berylliosis, which he’d gotten during his work as a scientist. He was on oxygen 24 hours a day, walking around his house on what seemed an endless tether connected to his oxygen tanks. If he went out, which was rare, he had to take a portable tank with him.

Dr. Anderson told me that he’d chopped beryllium by hand on the day the news of the discovery of fission had been hand delivered by Niels Bohr to the laboratory of Enrico Fermi in New York’s Columbia University. Working as Fermi’s laboratory assistant, they reproduced the fission experiment that day — the first fission to be created in the US. From there, the eventually went to Chicago and created the first nuclear pile. That, by the way, was the subject of Dr. Anderson’s Phd dissertation, the official report on building the first nuclear pile.

Beryllium is a terrible poison to all humans. Compared to asbestos it is much stronger, and more of a killer. Which is why it must surely be a sin to expose more workers to such poisons today. It’s one thing for a scientist in his lab to experiment with such materials in the hectic days of science of the 1940s to defeat the Nazis.

It’s something else to ruthlessly expose workers to beryllium today in order to save money for the corporations and their stock holders. That is what the Trump administration is trying to do, abettors of the crime of exposing workers to deadly illness.

So why is the Trump administration bent on doing exactly that? What is it, Mr. Trump? Do you think the world has forgotten what it is to poison workers for greed? Will that make America great again?

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