Activist attack on Brush expanded

October 26, 1999

The state's largest environmental activist group is stepping up its attack against Brush Wellman, Inc., the maker of a deadly metal that has sickened workers in the Toledo area and across the country.

Ohio Citizen Action is expanding its letter-writing campaign, pressing elected officials for support, and asking the state health department to offer medical tests to residents near Brush's Elmore plant to see whether they have been harmed.

In addition, the environmental group is sponsoring a public forum next month in Elmore to discuss the beryllium problem.

"People are dying because of what this company is doing," said Amy Ryder, program director for Ohio Citizen Action's Cleveland office. "They need to be held accountable for their actions."

Ohio Citizen Action, a nonprofit with offices in five cities and 150,000 members statewide, began targeting Brush in June in response to an investigation by The Blade on the hazards of beryllium. The environmentalists started going door to door in northwest Ohio, encouraging residents to write letters to Brush about their concerns. More than 3,000 letters were written, the activists said.

But when the activists requested a meeting with Brush, the company refused.

So now the activists are expanding their efforts. Yesterday, they started soliciting letters in Cleveland, where Brush has headquarters. After Cleveland, they said, they might fan out throughout northern Ohio.

"This is a way to turn up the heat on Brush Wellman," Ms. Ryder said.

Ohio Citizen Action is concerned that Brush workers continue to get sick from beryllium, a lightweight metal whose dust can cause an incurable, often-fatal lung disease. More than 150 Brush workers have contracted the illness companywide since the 1940s, including 65 at the Elmore plant.

Brush spokesman Hugh Hanes declined to comment on Ohio Citizen Action's efforts, other than to say that the company's position on meeting with the activists had not changed: Brush sees no reason to meet and believes the activists have a track record of spreading misinformation.

Sandy Buchanan, Ohio Citizen Action's executive director, called the beryllium issue one of the group's top concerns. "This is definitely of statewide importance. It's even of national importance."

Besides the letter-writing campaign, Ohio Citizen Action has:

  • Sent letters to about 25 elected officials in northwest Ohio, asking for help to get Brush to improve health conditions.

  • Announced that it will sponsor a public forum on beryllium at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the community center in Elmore.

  • Asked the state health department to offer blood tests to residents near the Elmore plant to find out whether they have contracted beryllium disease from air pollution.

    Health department spokesman Randy Hertzer said he could not immediately comment.

    The Blade series reported that in the 1940s, numerous residents within three-quarters of a mile of a Brush plant in Lorain, O., contracted beryllium disease from air pollution. The state health department offered medical testing to more than 10,000 residents and found more illness.

    And in the 1950s, residents within five miles of a Reading, Pa., plant, owned by Beryllium Corp., contracted the disease.

    There is no evidence that anyone has been harmed by air pollution from Brush's Elmore plant. But activists emphasize that no one has looked for such illness.

    "I think the state of Ohio has a duty to go forward and offer medical tests to anyone who has ever lived around Brush Wellman," said Theresa Norgard, an activist whose husband, Dave, contracted beryllium disease while working at the Elmore plant.

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