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Brush Wellman trying to head off Lorain beryllium ban, activists say

Thursday, May 04, 2000



LORAIN - Brush Wellman officials aren’t talking about why they agreed never to produce beryllium in Lorain, but environmental activists have an explanation.

They say the company is worried about bad publicity and the possibility that other communities might ban the product.

"This was a ploy to get everything to die down," said Louise Roselle, a Cincinnati lawyer representing workers exposed to beryllium at the Brush Wellman plant in Elmore, near Toledo.

"It’s nothing but political sop," said Terry Lodge, a Toledo lawyer specializing in environmental law. "They want to move it off the front page."

Beryllium is used in a variety of products, from nuclear weapons to cell phones and sensors for airbags. Exposure to beryllium fumes, dust or powder causes a fatal illness called chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer. In the 1940s, workers at an old Brush plant in Lorain sickened and died of exposure to what experts say is one of the most toxic materials manufactured today.

Lorain City Councilwoman Kathy Tavenner first proposed a ban last year on production or storage of beryllium and its compounds in the city.

Tavenner was surprised and pleased when Brush Wellman officials, who own a plant in the Lorain Industrial Park, said they would sign an agreement not to produce beryllium in the city if plans for a ban were dropped and public hearings canceled.

The proposed agreement was sent to City Council last Monday and referred to committee for review.

Tavenner said she thinks Brush Wellman agreed to the arrangement to halt the negative publicity. She said Brush officials called the city and offered to negotiate the day after a program on the adverse affects of exposure to beryllium aired on the television news program "20/20."

Tavenner said Brush officials also feared the ban would pass and that the idea might spread.

"I do believe that Brush Wellman thinks I had the votes to pass the ban," Tavenner said. "I think they felt, Why push the envelope?’"

Tavenner said city officials in Vermilion, where there is no beryllium plant, had asked for a copy of the proposed ban.

B.J. Fischer, a spokesman for Brush Wellman, said the company would not discuss its reasons for seeking an agreement until council approved it.

"We just want to let the council process work its own way," he said.

Lodge said that without language allowing the city to seek "some meaningful verification," the agreement would be worthless.

Roselle and Lodge said Lorain would be better protected if council went ahead with the ban.

"If they don’t ever want beryllium back in the city, then they should pass the ban," Roselle said.

Both lawyers said it would be easier for Brush Wellman to withdraw or get around a voluntary agreement than to duck a ban.


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©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.


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