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Fallen Worker: Bill Van Buskirk, Tennessee

Cold War Hero: Bill Van Buskirk (1924-2012)

NM Beryllium Machinist Featured in Training Video

Department of Energy workers everywhere lost a fighter and friend when Bill Van Buskirk died on May 9, 2012, of complications from chronic beryllium disease (CBD). He was exposed to beryllium as a machinist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where he worked from 1943 to 1979. With two brothers serving in World War II, Bill signed on to work with the Manhattan Project because a polio-related disability kept him out of the armed forces.

Diagnosed with berylliosis in the early 1970s, Bill became an outspoken advocate for those whose health was taken from them by inadequate protections at DOE facilities.

“I did my job,” he told government officials and 400 fellow citizens at a field hearing on compensation legislation in March 2000. “But someone didn’tdo theirs.”

He lent his name and story to the campaign for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act, and to a safety video now used throughout the DOE complex, so that today’s machinists might have better lives.  

Forced from his precision craft, Bill pursued a passion for photography around his home in New Mexico, and then in Lake Stevens, Wash., where he and wife, Barbara, spent his last years together.

“We had correspondence in the early years of bringing the CBD issues to the public eye,” recalls Glenn Bell, the Oak Ridge leader, also a machinist dealing with the disease. “I feel proud to have been included with him in the beryllium information video. He was a pioneer and a fighter.”

Read other stories of fallen workers.  Learn more about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action.