Beryllium firm agrees to pay $145,000 fineBy
Beryllium manufacturer Brush Wellman said Monday that
it will pay a $145,000 fine for violating air quality
regulations at its controversial plant on Tucson's South
The agreement between the Ohio-based company and Pima
County stems from a September 2000 inspection that
revealed a clothes dryer was illegally venting air to
The dryer laundered worker uniforms tainted with
toxic beryllium dust.
Company officials say the venting of the clothes
dryer was due to an "administrative error" and posed no
risk to the public. They say air tests on the dryer vent
didn't detect any beryllium.
County regulators agree that the public's health
wasn't jeopardized and say the problem was fixed.
Some people who work with beryllium are at risk of
getting sick from breathing particles of the gray metal,
which is prized for its lightweight strength and
At least 27 former employees of the Brush Ceramic
Products plant, 6100 S. Tucson Blvd., have contracted
chronic beryllium disease, an incurable and potentially
fatal illness that slowly suffocates its victims.
Public health experts say that since emissions
standards were adopted in 1949, cases of beryllium
disease in neighborhoods surrounding plants have
A 1999 Arizona Daily Star investigation found that
Brush Wellman moved the most dangerous part of its
beryllium business to Tucson just as it helped kill a
federal safety plan that could have reduced the hazard
Brush Wellman's activities were also scrutinized that
year in investigations by the Toledo (Ohio) Blade and
ABC's "20/20" TV program, which concluded the U.S.
government knowingly risked the lives of thousands of
workers in defense work with beryllium.
Kirk Keithly, Brush Ceramics Products president and
general manager, said in a statement Monday that "there
has never been a concern about us violating emission
"We're still emitting at a level that's a fraction of
what we're permitted to discharge, a level that 50 years
of data shows is safe. Protecting the health of our
employees and neighbors is our highest priority."
The plant's neighbors live in a predominantly
Hispanic and economically disadvantaged area that
already has suffered the ravages of the ground-water
contaminant TCE, a solvent used by local aircraft
Many neighbors have criticized Brush and called for
stricter monitoring of its air and soil since seven
schools are within a mile radius of the plant.
But extensive testing of the soil in the neighborhood
done by Pima County and the Sunnyside Unified School
District hasn't found beryllium elevated above natural
South Side activist Rose Augustine said she was
"shocked" that Brush was fined at all, since previous
problems "have been swept under the rug." But she said
the fine was still "peanuts."
"I wonder how much they would've charged them if they
were in a community up in the Northeast Side of town. It
would have been two or three times what they're charging
on the South Side," said Augustine, president of
Tucsonans for a Clean Environment.
Kathi Lawrence, field services manager for Pima
County's Department of Environmental Quality, said the
agency used federal guidelines in determining the fine.
Those policies consider, among other things, a
violator's ability to pay, its cooperation in the case
and the severity of the infraction.
* Contact Mitch Tobin at 573-4185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All content copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 AzStarNet,
Arizona Daily Star and its wire services and suppliers
and may not be republished without permission. All
rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution, or
retransmission of any of the contents of this service
without the expressed written consent of Arizona Daily
Star or AzStarNet is prohibited.