RICHLAND -- The Department of Energy is bringing experts in beryllium exposure to the Tri-Cities to help former Hanford workers learn more about whether their health could be affected by the metal.
DOE has planned a meeting for former workers from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday at the Richland Red Lion Inn on George Washington Way.
Former employees might have been exposed to fine particles of beryllium when they worked at Hanford. In some people, it causes an incurable lung disease.
At least 32 workers have been diagnosed at Hanford with chronic beryllium disease, including 17 people still at the nuclear reservation. But that does not count people whose illness was not diagnosed while they still worked at Hanford.
Hanford contractors are conducting briefings for employees to learn more about beryllium. But DOE also wanted former employees to have a chance to learn more about beryllium, its hazards, how to be screened for chronic beryllium disease and financial compensation available for those who are ill.
It's the first beryllium information meeting DOE has held for former Hanford workers, said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree.
Beryllium was used in the cladding for fuel fabricated at the Hanford 300 Area to produce plutonium at Hanford reactors. But fine particles of beryllium that may be inhaled also have been detected in buildings elsewhere at Hanford, including many buildings in central Hanford and buildings associated with the K Reactors.
It's also been found in buildings used by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
In some people, beryllium has no adverse effect, but in others their immune system sees beryllium as a foreign invader and builds an "army" of cells in the bloodstream that react to beryllium wherever they see it in the body. That can be detected in a blood test and those people are considered "beryllium sensitized" and at risk of developing chronic beryllium disease.
In addition to Hanford workers who have been diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease, another 113 workers have been diagnosed as beryllium sensitized since 1997.
There are no symptoms of beryllium sensitization, but people with chronic beryllium disease have scarring in their lungs. They might notice shortness of breath while walking, climbing stairs or other activity, as well as a dry cough that will not go away.
Some people also might experience fatigue, night sweats, chest and joint pain, and loss of appetite as the disease progresses.
Among those who will be speaking or answering questions at the Monday meeting are top decision makers in programs related to beryllium.
They include Dr. Sandy Rock; Mary Fields, the DOE program manager for the Former Worker Medical Screening Program; Doug Shoop, deputy manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office; Tracy Johnson of the national compensation program for ill nuclear workers and their survivors; and representatives of the Hanford Beryllium Awareness Group, including Tom Peterson, who is living with chronic beryllium disease.
The Beryllium Awareness Group requested the meeting.
Information tables will be set up to provide information on how to be screened for chronic beryllium disease and to help people apply for compensation under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.