Worker fired by Brush ends whistleblower complaint

January 22, 2000

Federal authorities have dropped their whistleblower investigation of the Brush Wellman beryllium company because the worker who initiated the inquiry has withdrawn his complaint.

The worker, Glenn Petersen, had filed a complaint with the Toledo area office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging that Brush had broken whistleblower laws when it fired him from the company's plant outside Elmore in October.

Brush denied the claims. Company documents state that Mr. Petersen was fired for poor behavior, including absenteeism.

Federal officials had been investigating, but they stopped when Mr. Petersen withdrew his complaint about two weeks ago.

Mr. Petersen, a 29-year-old from Moline, said he dropped his complaint because he thought he might lose the case. He said rather than suffer a defeat, he decided to withdraw his complaint with OSHA and pursue his claims with the National Labor Relations Board, where he might have a better chance of winning.

He said he is not giving up his fight: "Not in the slightest."

Mr. Petersen had been a furnace operator at the beryllium plant and a leading critic of the company's health and safety practices. In the last few years, he tried to organize a union at the plant; distributed flyers proclaiming "Brush Wellman Lies!" ; and complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about safety problems in the plant involving beryllium, a metal whose toxic dust has caused the illnesses and deaths of numerous Brush workers.

Shortly after he wrote to the safety administration in May about workers being overexposed to beryllium dust, safety regulators began a rare, surprise inspection of the plant. Regulators fined Brush $49,950 for 19 violations, including high levels of dust.

Arnis Andersons, director of the administration's Toledo office, said the whistleblower complaint was withdrawn before the agency determined the validity of the claims.

Hugh Hanes, spokesman for Cleveland-based Brush Wellman, said: "There was no basis for the complaint. We continue to believe there was no basis for the complaint."

OSHA's Toledo office reports it receives about 80 whistleblower complaints a year, with a quarter found to be valid.

Brush Wellman has been under fire since March, when a Blade series documented how the U.S. government and American beryllium companies, including industry leader Brush, allowed workers to be overexposed to beryllium dust, which can cause a chronic lung illness.

Congress initiated two investigations, environmentalists pressed for reforms, and several contracting firms pulled out of the beryllium plant.

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