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Did CDC Cave To Pressure Over Toxic Dust?

CBS News reported in January that the Centers for Disease Control, the nation's top public health agency, under pressure from FEMA, suppressed a study citing the long-term health risks of living in travel trailers. Now Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian has found the CDC may again be putting politics ahead of public health. Previously undisclosed documents obtained exclusively by CBS News raise new questions as to whether high-ranking CDC officials caved to political and corporate pressure - and shut down a major public health study putting the residents of a small Ohio town at risk.

"It's worrisome; it's very worrisome."

Bernadette Eriksen lives in Elmore, Ohio, where the material engineering company Brush Wellman operates the world's largest manufacturing plant for beryllium, a metal used to make parts found in nuclear weapons, golf clubs and computer chips.

During manufacturing it produces a toxic dust. Exposure can cause an incurable, often-fatal lung disease and possibly cancer, Keteyian reports.

In 2001, in response to community concerns, the CDC began looking at whether beryllium dust from the plant was a health hazard. By 2005, CDC scientists pledged a thorough investigation - with blood tests for up to 200 residents and household dust readings.

"A sigh of relief comes over your family because testing is going to be done and the answers are coming," Eriksen said.

In the spring of 2006, Brush Wellman threatened to withdraw plans for a new multi-million dollar plant because of the CDC research.

At the urging of the company president, then-Ohio Gov. Bob Taft sent a handwritten note, obtained by CBS News to Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services. In it, he complained that actions in Elmore by the CDC's agency for toxic substances, known as ATSDR, "are a deterrent to choosing Ohio," adding, "Please have someone look into this and get back to me..."

Within days, the note was forwarded from Leavitt's office to that of CDC Director Julie Gerberding, and quickly passed down to ATSDR managers.

By April 14, an internal document reveals the agency was now taking "...a fresh look at scientific and related ... issues," and a "more limited approach" in Elmore. Only 18 residents - not 200 - would get blood tests.

Household dust readings were out.

Get the inside story at Primary Source: Congress Takes On The CDC.

In September 2006, just five months after the Ohio governor had sent his letter and shortly after ATSDR had packed its bags and left town, Brush Wellman decided that Elmore would be the site of its new 100,000-square-foot production facility.

Congress is investigating. Both Brush Wellman and Health and Human Services declined an interview request with CBS News. Dr. Thomas Sinks, a director at the CDC, said they used the best science.

"There was no political pressure that affected our decision of what we were going to do," Sinks said.

Keteyian asked: "No pressure from the governor of Ohio? No pressure from Secretary Leavitt? No pressure from Dr. Gerberding, who runs this agency?"

"I received no pressure that would have altered a decision that we made to go forward to use the most definitive tests we could," Sinks said.

But Eriksen said: "If we cannot rely on these agencies that come in on a big white horse and make all these promises, who are we going to trust?"