Activists get meeting with Brush officials

December 17, 1999

ELMORE - After months of saying it would not meet with local environmentalists, the Brush Wellman beryllium company has changed its stance and has sat down with the activists to discuss their concerns.

"The meeting was professional and cordial, and we left open the possibility of getting back together again,'' Brush spokesman Hugh Hanes said yesterday.

The environmental group Ohio Citizen Action had been pressing for a meeting since June to discuss why workers at the Brush Wellman plant outside Elmore continue to contract an often-fatal lung disease.

But Brush rejected the requests, saying the environmentalists had a history of spreading misinformation about the firm.

On Dec. 3, the two sides met, and though no agreements were reached, the environmentalists said the meeting was a good first step.

"It was good to sit down face to face so they could see that we are people just like they are, to see that we are not environmental mobsters who want to run them out of town on a rail,'' said Sarah Ogdahl, program director for Ohio Citizen Action's Toledo office.

Though no more meetings are scheduled, Ms. Ogdahl said she hopes the two sides will meet regularly to discuss beryllium disease, a lung illness that has struck 65 current or former workers at the Elmore plant.

"Just because we have had this meeting does not mean that we are walking away from the table happy,'' Ms. Ogdahl said. Brush officials, she said, "are not doing enough to prevent this disease from spreading, and they are not doing enough to protect the residents. And we will continue to work until we can ensure the safety of the residents and the workforce.''

Ohio Citizen Action, the state's largest environmental activist group with offices in five cities, began targeting Brush this spring in response to an investigation by The Blade on the hazards of beryllium. The environmentalists started going door to door in northern Ohio, encouraging residents to write letters to Brush about their concerns.

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

Then, last month, Ohio Citizen Action helped sponsor a public forum on beryllium that drew so many residents, workers, and activists to the Elmore Community Center that fire officials had to turn people away at the door.

After the meeting, Ohio Citizen Action officials were approached by David Meeker, an executive with Edward Howard & Co., a Cleveland-based public relations firm doing work for Brush.

The public relations man told the environmentalists that Brush was interested in meeting, and the two sides met in Fremont two weeks later.

Both sides said the meeting was strictly informational.

"The purpose of the meeting was to understand each other's points of view and to exchange information," Mr. Hanes said.

Ms. Ogdahl said Brush Medical Director Dr. David Deubner spent a good portion of the meeting discussing the characteristics of beryllium disease, which is caused by the metal's dust.

Mr. Hanes would not comment on why Brush changed its stance on meeting with the activists. But he did say the company had been impressed by the "even-handed nature'' of the activists' recent public forum, where both Brush supporters and critics spoke.

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