Beryllium tests set for EPA staffers

April 25, 2000

COLUMBUS - The state will spend $15,125 so the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency can provide blood tests for dozen of its inspectors who may have been exposed to toxic beryllium dust at the Brush Wellman plant near Elmore.

Under the program, the state will pay for the tests and followup exams for 55 current or former employees who have visited the plant or several smaller sites with the potential for beryllium exposure.

The state Controlling Board, a seven-member panel, voted unanimously yesterday to waive the state's competitive bidding process so the state can contract with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Corporate Health to do the testing.

Cleveland Clinic is the only laboratory in Ohio that can do the work, said Don McNeal, the state EPA's fiscal officer.

EPA officials, who announced the initiative in February, said the type of test that will be used is called the Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test, which detects "sensitization" to exposure to beryllium.

The Ohio EPA became interested in offering blood tests last year after a six-part Blade series documented how the U.S. government and the beryllium industry knowingly allowed thousands of workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal. Its dust can cause a chronic, often-fatal lung illness.

An abnormal blood test does not mean a worker has beryllium disease; it indicates that the body has reacted to exposure to beryllium dust. Workers with blood abnormalities must undergo further tests to determine whether they have the disease.

The testing should start within a few weeks, said Beth Wolf, the Ohio EPA's safety administrator.

She said the blood tests will be added to the regular medical monitoring of the five or six EPA employees who make inspections at Brush's Elmore plant.

Most of the 55 current or former EPA employees who have signed up for the testing program have worked at Brush's Elmore plant, but a few may have been exposed at two businesses in Marion and a former Brush facility in Luckey.

Cleveland-based Brush Wellman is America's leading beryllium producer. Thomas Clare, an attorney representing Brush, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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