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Editorial: An opportunity forfeited

June 30, 1999

Just a few weeks ago we were encouraged by a series of safety steps announced by beryllium producer Brush Wellman Inc. It seemed that the company was making an effort to meet the concerns of workers and the community.

In light of that, it's difficult to understand why the company would be so absolute in its refusal to meet with environmental activists who want to discuss health concerns at the company's Elmore plant.

Ohio Citizen Action, along with two other groups, asked for the meeting, and it's a reasonable request. Remember that Brush Wellman is a company that, as detailed in a compelling series of articles by Blade Senior Writer Sam Roe, downplayed the hazards of beryllium and tried to limit what the public knew about beryllium.

Instead of a new openness and willingness to discuss an important public health issue, Brush Wellman threw up the barricades and bad-mouthed Ohio Citizen Action in the bargain.

The group is not riding the coattails of The Blade series, trying to boost its own profile. In fact, as Day 1 of our series noted, the group had been protesting at an open house held by Brush Wellman months before we published the articles.

Citizen Action is the largest environmental activist group in the state, and Brush Wellman could have predicted that the organization would have a continuing interest in the beryllium issue. The smart course of action would have been for the two parties to meet for discussion and an exchange of views.

It's bad enough the company won't even sit down with Ohio Citizen Action. What's worse is the offensively aggressive tone the refusal takes. In a letter, the company says Citizen Action spreads disinformation and is publicity-seeking.

The measures the company announced last month were meaningful steps in the right direction, but they aren't the end of the matter. Of course there's public concern. Of course that concern lingers and will continue to do so while people are contracting chronic beryllium disease.

This is a public health issue in northwest Ohio and far beyond, and people have every reason to be involved. Brush Wellman will just have to get used to that.

Environmentalists' requests for reduced beryllium dust inside and outside the Elmore plant, air monitoring in the adjacent neighborhood, and free blood tests are not unreasonable. Why is the company balking at talking with Citizen Action about them?

Brush Wellman's brusque rejection of a meeting does nothing to instill confidence that the company understands the gravity of the situation or the importance of renewing public trust.

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