Brush says it's prepared for leaks

January 25, 2000

ELMORE - Beryllium isn't the only potential health hazard Brush Wellman, Inc., handles at its plant on the east side of this Ottawa County village.

But unlike the chronic lung disease caused by exposure to beryllium dust, the risks posed by propane and hydrofluoric acid are deemed dangerous enough by the federal government to require Brush to tell the public how it would respond to an accident involving those two materials.

The company's response to a leak would be to deploy its emergency response team to try to contain it, a Brush spokesman told about three dozen people at Woodmore High School last night.

If a release off plant property seemed likely, residents could be evacuated or warned to take shelter in their homes, said Larry Chako, communications manager for the Elmore plant.

When audience members turned their attention toward beryllium risks, however, Mr. Chako said beryllium was not the subject of the hearing, held in compliance with federal law governing specific hazardous materials.

"Beryllium is a greater threat - we should have one of these meetings about that,'' said Tom King, who lives on State Rt. 105 near the plant.

But while Mr. Chako invited audience members to talk with him about beryllium after the hearing, he said the firm is not interested in an open forum. Instead, he said, Brush is willing to discuss beryllium matters with small groups.

Brush has emergency response plans for incidents involving materials other than hydrofluoric acid and propane, Mr. Chako said, but those are the only materials for which the firm is required to hold a hearing. Other plans are on file with emergency planning and response agencies.

The Elmore plant uses hydrofluoric acid as part of the manufacturing process for beryllium, a strong, lightweight metal. Propane fuels the plant's forklift trucks and is a backup heating fuel.

Propane is an explosion and fire hazard and can cause eye, nose, throat, stomach, and skin irritation. When exposed to air, hydrofluoric acid fumes and has an acrid odor; the vapors cause extreme irritation, and direct contact with the liquid can cause severe injury or death.

Since it is heavier than air, hydrofluoric acid tends to stay close to the ground when released. Mr. Chako said Brush has had leaks that were contained within the plant, but no accidents have had outside consequences, nor has there been an accident involving a tanker truck transporting the acid to the plant.

The firm's emergency response plan for the acid covers a 71/2-mile radius, based on a worst-case scenario for a hydrofluoric acid release.

In response to a question from Ohio Citizen Action representatives, Mr. Chako said Brush has budgeted $500,000 this year to study ways it could reduce or eliminate its use of the acid.


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