Device caused tumors, NSA workers allege

March 06, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Two National Security Agency employees have filed a class-action lawsuit against the maker of a device that erases audiotapes, claiming working with it at the spy shop caused their brain tumors.

The men claim the electromagnetic field around the equipment was so high that using it three hours a week led to the tumors, according to a lawsuit seeking $10 million filed yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. Both have undergone surgery.

At least three NSA workers, including the two men, have been diagnosed with brain tumors, and three were diagnosed with cancer, the lawsuit says. All involved solid tumors, said one of two Annapolis attorneys for the workers.

"We believe other employees may have experienced similar medical problems," said Jon W. Brassel, the attorney. "I think there were approximately 30 people working on this machine over a given period of time."

The full class could include other government and employees of private businesses anywhere who used the equipment.

Spokesmen for Electro-Matic Products Co., the manufacturer, in Chicago and the NSA at Fort Meade could not be reached.

The action alleges that the design of the equipment, known as a degausser, was flawed and that Electro-Matic knew it had made unsafe equipment but did not warn potential buyers and users.

In October, the magnetic field around a similar machine made by the company was found by a federal radiation protection officer to be 20 times higher than levels recommended by an industrial users group, according to the claim. The equipment emits a field similar to that of overhead power lines.

Brassel said he believes that the machine his clients used at NSA was replaced.

The workers developed tumors after using the degausser for several years, the lawsuit says.

Thomas E. Van Meter of Odenton used the erasing equipment from 1980 to 1988, the lawsuit says. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December 1986 and had it removed in April 1987.

The lawsuit says Tommy Gerald Grimes of Severn used it from 1982 to 1989. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 1989 and had it removed.

Both have lasting injuries, Brassel said.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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