Brush plant loses fourth contractor
November 10, 1999
ELMORE - A Toledo concrete company has pulled its workers out of the Brush Wellman beryllium plant near Elmore - the fourth contractor known to have severed ties with the plant because of concerns over beryllium disease.
Duffey Concrete Cutting, Inc., told the beryllium firm last week that it no longer would work at the plant, said Tim Duffey, president of the concrete company.
"I don't want to be responsible for someone who works here having health problems,'' Mr. Duffey said. "It's that simple.''
Duffey Concrete joins three other local contractors who have pulled out of the plant recently: Northwood Door, Sponseller Group, Inc., and Rudolph/Libbe Companies, Inc.
All four companies cited concerns about their workers possibly contracting beryllium disease, an incurable, often-fatal lung illness caused by inhaling the metal's dust.
Mr. Duffey said he decided to end his company's 10-year relationship with Brush after reading articles in The Blade about the dangers in the beryllium industry.
"The work that my fellows do here is dangerous enough without exposing ourselves to known chemical hazards," Mr. Duffey said.
Duffey Concrete frequently cut concrete at the beryllium plant to accommodate new machinery. Mr. Duffey said six of his 20 employees had done work at the plant over the years. In March, The Blade began a series of articles detailing how the U.S. government and the beryllium industry allowed thousands of beryllium workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust. Dozens contracted beryllium disease, and some died.
After the series was published, several contractors at the Elmore plant gave blood tests to their workers to see if they had been harmed. While none has been reported to have developed beryllium disease, at least nine show a blood abnormality - a sign that they may develop the illness.
Mr. Duffey said he paid for blood tests for the six Duffey Concrete employees who had done work at Brush, and the six workers were found to be unharmed.
Still, he said, he decided to pull his workers out of the plant rather than continue to risk their health.
Brush spokesman Hugh Hanes said yesterday he was sorry to see Duffey Concrete leave, "but we respect their right to make that decision."
He said Brush's ability to operate the Elmore plant has not been affected by contractors pulling out. Brush has either replaced the contractors or is working on it, he said.
The Brush spokesman would not say whether more than four contractors have quit. "That's private information between the companies and Brush Wellman," he said.
And he reiterated that the beryllium company wants to reduce the number of contract workers at the plant to limit the number of people exposed to beryllium dust.
Brush is America's leading beryllium producer, with headquarters in Cleveland and facilities in several states.
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in nuclear weapons and in the auto, computer, and electronics industries.
An estimated 1,200 people have contracted beryllium disease nationwide since the 1940s, including 65 current or former Brush employees at the Elmore plant, 20 miles southeast of Toledo.
Sarah Ogdahl, local program director for Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental activist group, said all Brush contractors should determine whether their workers have been exposed to beryllium dust.
If so, the workers should be offered blood tests, and Brush should pick up the tab, especially for the small contractors.
"These are small businesses, and for them to be hit with these huge medical expenses is unfair,'' she said.
Brush has offered blood tests to its own employees but not to contract workers.
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