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Executive at Lockheed Rejects Danger Claims

Times Staff Writer

In a published statement to Lockheed employees, one of the company’s top division heads denied recent charges that workers believed to be assembling top-secret stealth fighter planes have been sickened and killed by exposure to hazardous chemicals.

John C. Brizendine, the president of Lockheed’s Aeronautical Systems Co., said in an editorial Thursday in the firm’s employee newsletter that there is no danger to employees working with the chemicals.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly that we have seen nothing to indicate the materials we work with are fundamentally unsafe or pose a health hazard, providing proper procedures are followed,” Brizendine said in the editorial, which appeared under the headline, “Brizendine sets the LASC safety record straight.”

The editorial also said Lockheed places “top priority on the health and safety of our employees.” Brizendine wrote that he had become “increasingly dismayed” with news accounts and “inaccurate and misleading statements that are reported as fact.”

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The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 8,000 union members at Lockheed’s Burbank and Palmdale plants, declined to comment on the editorial until Monday.

About 75 employees of Lockheed’s Burbank plant have filed a lawsuit against the company and other firms that make and supply the chemicals. About 150 employees have filed worker’s compensation claims, alleging that they suffer from illnesses caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Afraid to Seek Help

The workers--some of whom worked in Lockheed’s highly classified “skunk works” at Burbank--have complained that they were afraid to seek help from private physicians because they were forbidden by security requirements to discuss their work with outsiders.

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But Brizendine said employees who want help from private physicians can use special data sheets provided by Lockheed to describe the chemicals they work with. Those sheets would not violate security regulations, he said.

“Some news media reports have focused on a perceived conflict between health matters and government security,” Brizendine wrote. “There is no conflict.”

Aviation analysts have said Lockheed is making a stealth fighter, although its existence is not acknowledged by the Defense Department. The aviation observers say the planes are produced largely from exotic composite materials and require the use of hazardous chemicals. The composites have the strength of metals but do not reflect radar pulses and are intended to make the planes “invisible” to enemy radar.

Proud of Safety Record

Federal occupational health inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and a team from the Pentagon said last week that they would be inspecting the Lockheed facility. Defense Department spokespersons would make no comment Friday on the findings of the inspection.

In the editorial, Brizendine said Lockheed is proud of its safety record.

“When measured against the safety programs of other corporations throughout the greater Los Angeles area, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company consistently places high, as evidenced by the more than 100 awards we have earned from the National Safety Council during the past two decades,” he wrote.

Brizendine said employees who work with composite materials are protected. He wrote that the Composite Development Center in Burbank is furnished with “up-to-date ventilation and air conditioning.”

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He added that the company’s health, safety and environmental organizations are being realigned into one department, which will coordinate with Lockheed doctors in investigating health-related complaints from employees.


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