Beryllium

4BERYLLIUM

(The author of this first article is unknown, but it is most probably from a newspaper journalist)   UP to 3000 sailors have been exposed to a deadly dust while serving in the navy. The dust was created during routine work on the hulls of HMAS SUPPLY and the aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE and all personnel who served on the ships between the 1950s and 1985 are being urged to have medical tests.

The dust came from machines called jason pistols which were used to scour paint and rust from the ships. The pistols used vibrating rods coated with an alloy containing a heavy metal called beryllium.   It is now known beryllium dust can cause fatal and untreatable lung disease, similar to asbestosis.   Beryllium poisoning has led to huge compensation claims overseas, particularly in the US.   Jason pistols containing the metal stopped being used in 1985.

The Australian navy would not comment other than to confirm the jason pistols were used by servicemen and the subject was under investigation.   The danger was identified by veterans’ group the Naval Tankerman Association in mid-December.   It has urged all its members, via its website, to see a doctor.  National President Bob Currin said: “We have established that 3000 seamen and women were serving on the ships that used jason pistols over the relevant period.   Hundreds have suffered breathing problems, but up to now they have been catalogued as asbestosis. We do not know how many of them may be caused by beryllium.”

The alert was sounded after former naval officer Peter Robertson, who served on HMAS SUPPLY, received a medical report indicating beryllium exposure.   “I was in the navy for 23 years and I never got told about this – there were no tests given,” he told The Daily Telegraph last year.   “There were more than 150 crew on the HMAS SUPPLY and, as far as I know, no one has been told.”

Mr Currin, from Baradine in northwestern NSW, who says he served on HMAS SUPPLY for nine years, said: “We knew the jason pistols were made from a special compound that stopped them sparking off the ship’s metal when we chipped the paint and rust. It’s only now we’ve discovered it included beryllium and was dangerous.”   Beryllium is a heavy metal which, when inhaled in dust form, causes pneumonia-like symptoms, similar to asbestosis.   Beryllium poisoning kills 2 to 6 per cent of those exposed and can lie dormant for years.   Symptoms include scarred lungs, shortness of breath and eventually death. It is incurable.   It was used in jason pistols because it does not cause sparks when used to strip metal.

HMAS SUPPLY was a refuelling ship filled with flammable oil and HMAS MELBOURNE was an aircraft Carrier which carried large supplies of aviation fuel.   “The list of those exposed to beryllium runs to thousands, including myself,”  Mr Currin said.   “Jason pistols were used in general maintenance. Everyone used them. Everyone mucked in to do the cleaning.”   Mr Currin said he was routinely covered head to foot in dust after using the device.   “The needles, which are made of beryllium, would vibrate to break up the paint. As that happened, dust would come off the needles.   This is the problem. You’d be covered in dust. There’s no doubt we all breathed it in.”

Despite the dangers posed by beryllium being known since the 1950s, Mr Currin said none of the hundreds of former personnel he had corresponded with in recent weeks had been informed of the danger by the navy.   He said “hundreds” of cases of reported asbestosis among affected sailors were now being reviewed to see if beryllium was involved.   “Just the knowledge that they have been exposed is worrying their family,” he said.   Mr Currin said it might never be known how many personnel had been affected because many had claimed enhanced pensions on the grounds of having asbestosis.   Beryllium poisoning and asbestosis present similar symptoms.

Former personnel who renounced their asbestosis claims risked losing their pension

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This article was posted by the ADF to their email list and should be read in conjunction with the previous article

EXPOSURE TO BERYLLIUM       The safety and wellbeing of all members of the Navy is of the utmost importance to Navy. This includes an ongoing interest in the general health and wellbeing of all former members of Navy.   Navy no longer uses jason pistol needles containing beryllium but acknowledges that jason pistol needles containing beryllium were used in the past.   Jason pistols are hydraulic tools used to strip paint from ships. They work by vibrating a set of ‘needles’ against the painted metal. This causes wear on the needles, generating dust.

We are currently investigating the extent to which jason pistol needles containing beryllium were used in the Navy, in which ships, and over what time frame. This is a difficult undertaking that may take some time. Relevant records from decades ago will need to be sourced and collated to help us build a clear picture of the extent of this problem.   Navy is committed to ensuring that all reasonable avenues for providing information on the concerns raised by our people are investigated.

Ex-servicemen or women can lodge a claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs if they believe they have a service-related health problem, including those who believe they have had exposure to beryllium dust which has had a detrimental health impact.

Defence will use the results of its investigations to assist the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Currently serving members who believe they may have been exposed to beryllium dust are encouraged to speak with their unit medical staff.   Records from over 20 years ago may not be comprehensive or consistent in the way possible exposure was identified and recorded. Medical records are medical-in-confidence and Defence is unable to comment on individual cases.   In very rare cases, respiratory exposure to Beryllium dusts can lead to the development of chronic lung disease in sensitised individuals.

Navy is currently unaware of any proven cases of occupationally-caused beryllium disease, but is committed to working with DVA on this issue.

Contact details for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are: 133 254 or 1800 555 254

 

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Another email from the ADF/DVA email posting list:

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

THE HON DE-ANNE KELLY BE MP

003/05 Wednesday, 9 February 2005

CONCERNS ALLAYED OVER BERYLLIUM

The Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) have today moved to re-assure current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) concerned about exposure to beryllium.

DVA has a long-standing compensation system in place for determining claims such as those arising from beryllium exposure.

A small number of beryllium related cases have been dealt with under this system. Any current or former member of the ADF who believes they have a health problem arising out of their service in the ADF and who wish to make a claim are encouraged to contact DVA.

A Beryllium Information Service will be set up through the Defence Service Call Centre at Cooma, which will provide an opportunity for personnel and the public to register their names.

Individuals who register will be contacted in writing regarding the appropriate course of action for their circumstances. The Departments of Defence and Veterans Affairs will liaise to ensure that all persons who so register receive coordinated advice.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister De-Anne Kelly said she wished to re-assure current and former Defence personnel who may be concerned following alarmist media reports about beryllium.

“The adverse health effects of beryllium are uncommon and are generally associated with short term high-level exposure or with long term low-level exposure,” Mrs Kelly said.

She said regulations and safety standards are in place regarding the use of beryllium in today’s ADF.

Mrs Kelly said Defence and DVA have been working closely to resolve the issues surrounding exposure to beryllium.

“Defence and DVA are committed to taking all reasonable steps as quickly as possible to provide information to those who are concerned about beryllium related issues,” she said.

The Beryllium Information Service will be operational in one week and a contact number for the register will be announced at that time.

In the meantime, individuals who wish to make a claim related to beryllium exposure should contact DVA on 133 254 or 1800 555 254.

Media contacts:

Craig Clarke (Minister Kelly’s office) – 0417 889 423

Defence Media Liaison – 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664

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BERYLLIUM INFORMATION SERVICE NOW OPERATIONAL

The Department of Defence has today announced that the Beryllium Information Service (BIS) is now operational via the ADF Defence Service Centre, Cooma, providing an opportunity for concerned Defence personnel and the public to register their names.

Individuals who believe they were exposed to beryllium as a result of Defence-related activities will be offered the opportunity to register their details with the Defence Service Centre.

This Beryllium Information Service is now available and concerned individuals are encouraged to ring 1800 000 644.

The Beryllium Register will record each caller’s personal and potential exposure details.

The Service Centre expects to be contacted by four potential groups of callers.

* Currently Serving ADF and APS members.

* Ex-serving ADF members.

* Contractors working on ADF facilities or projects.

* Other third parties including former APS civilians, cadets and family members.

Individuals who register will be contacted in writing regarding the appropriate course of action for their individual circumstances.

A Defence Health Service Beryllium Fact Sheet will make up part of all information packages sent out along with other specifically targeted advice.

Media contact:

Defence Media Liaison (02) 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664

BLOOD TEST FOR BERYLLIUM EXPOSURE

The  blood test for Beryllium is called:  Beryllium-Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (BE=LPT) this test is to detect how certain white blood cells react to Beryllium.  It appears that this test is only able to be done in the US.

 

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