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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 17, 2003

UI Research Team Offers Free Educational Programs On Beryllium, Radiation

A University of Iowa research team investigating the health of former nuclear weapons workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant (IAAAP) will offer two free educational programs on radiation and beryllium Thursday, Oct. 23 and Thursday, Nov. 13 at the Best Western Pzazz Motor Inn in Burlington. The Oct. 23 program will be from 6 to 9 p.m. The same program will be repeated Nov. 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. The programs are open to the public. For more information, call toll free (866) 282-5818.

Laurence Fuortes, M.D., UI professor of occupational and environmental health and principal investigator on the Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant-Former Worker Program (BAECP-FWP) research team, will present information on beryllium. Bill Field, Ph.D., a health physicist and research scientist at the UI, will present information on radiation.

According to Fuortes, workers may have been exposed to potentially hazardous levels of radioactive materials and beryllium. Beryllium is a spark-free metal used in tools and nuclear weapons components at many Department of Energy (DOE) sites. A small percentage of people exposed to beryllium may develop a lung disease called chronic beryllium disease. Exposure to increased amounts of radiation has been linked to several cancers.

"These free educational programs can help the IAAP workforce and their families understand health factors that may affect them," Fuortes said.

The BAECP-FWP research team is also offering free medical screenings to former nuclear weapons workers at IAAAP to look for occupational illnesses potentially caused by their work for the DOE. During the Cold War, an estimated 4,000 IAAAP employees worked in atomic weapons assembly at the Middletown, Iowa plant, in an area known as Line 1 or Division B. IAAAP is one of only two facilities in the United States that participated in the final assembly of atomic weapons. Nearly two years into the medical screening program, the research team has conducted more than 500 medical screenings.

The potentially work-related health conditions identified in the screenings include asbestos-related disease, cancer, chronic beryllium disease, and emphysema or obstructive airway disease. Preliminary data from the medical screenings show three cases of lung cancer, one case of thyroid cancer, one case of colon cancer and three cases of prostate cancer.

The data also show 16 cases of chronic beryllium disease. Of 683 former workers screened by the BAECP-FWP or the DOE's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), 24 have tested positive for sensitivity to beryllium. Of those, some apparently had very minimal occupational exposures and could have worked in a variety of positions throughout the plant.

The medical screening program continues to be available to former workers employed by DOE (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission or AEC) at IAAAP from 1947-1975. To find out how former DOE workers can participate in the screening program, or for more information about the free programs on radiation and beryllium, call toll-free (866) 282-5818.

A federal compensation program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), has been established to pay damages to former DOE workers for illnesses resulting from their employment. Workers who would like more information about the compensation program can call toll free (866) 540-4977.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4261 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kristina Venzke, 319-335-8494,