published June 28, 2001Regional
Neighbors ask feds to test air near
Residents don’t want to rely on
BY KELLY LECKER
ELMORE - Bernadette Eriksen urged a federal
health agency last night to find out on its own whether beryllium is
escaping the Brush Wellman plant and affecting nearby
"Don’t just trust their air monitor. It’s run by
Brush Wellman. It’s checked by Brush Wellman," she said. "I don’t
Ms. Eriksen joined former Brush workers and
community residents last night to tell members of a federal health
agency their fears or concerns about beryllium
About 30 people showed up initially, and others
trickled in during the three-hour open house. The few who spoke as
the meeting began urged officials to find them definitive
The Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry is investigating whether people living near the
beryllium plant near here - Brush Wellman’s largest - face harmful
exposure from the facility’s air emissions. It also is looking into
whether people were exposed to beryllium carried off the site on
The investigation was requested by U.S.
Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) in January. The public health agency, a
part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will
report its findings and make recommendations when it has completed
its investigation, which will take several months.
here for fact-finding. We haven’t made any sort of health
determination," said Peter Kowalski, who is leading the federal
team. "We’re concerned. We understand this is a disease that has
caused a great deal of tragedy and it’s still
Beryllium is a metal used to make, among other
things, nuclear weapons. Beryllium dust can cause an incurable,
sometimes fatal, lung illness when inhaled.
people nationwide have contracted beryllium disease since the 1940s,
including current and former workers at the Brush Wellman plant near
Several people at last night’s meeting worked at
Brush Wellman and have chronic beryllium disease. Others lived near
Bob Szilagyi, a Brush Wellman worker from Oak
Harbor, urged the investigators to focus on determining how much
beryllium is in the air.
"You could find beryllium in cars or
in people’s carpets, but it’s the stuff that’s in the air that
causes the sickness," he said.
David Beckley of Clyde, a
Brush worker who filed suit against Brush Wellman because he has
chronic beryllium disease, said the workers’ illnesses should be
proof enough something has to be done.
"We have so many sick
people out at Brush Wellman. Isn’t that enough to say ‘Hey,
something’s wrong?’" he asked.
Ohio Citizen Action, the
state’s largest environmental group, conducted a study late last
year and said it found beryllium residue outside the plant, on cars
and in the homes of workers, and on an automobile owned by a nearby
resident. The organization demanded blood tests for neighbors to see
if they had been exposed to beryllium. The company has insisted the
testing is not necessary.
Ohio Citizen Action met with
officials from the federal health agency yesterday afternoon. Amy
Ryder, citizen action’s Cleveland director, said the agency plans to
use Ohio EPA data to see if residents are at risk.
asked them to not make that determination, because we don’t think
they can," she said. Last night, Mr. Kowalski said the agency could
do its own testing if the data available is
Patrick Carpenter, a Brush Wellman spokesman,
said the company has gone to great lengths to keep the beryllium
inside the plant, and said monitors show the beryllium in the air
outside the plant is much lower than the EPA standard of 0.01
micrograms per cubic meter of air.
The health agency will
meet with Brush Wellman officials today to gather information from
Ms. Ryder had asked the federal disease registry
to do its own independent sampling, a larger study than the one Ohio
Citizen Action did last year.
She pointed to an incident in
February, when beryllium dust escaped from a barrel outside a Brush
Wellman complex into a residential area, as a reason residents
should be concerned about being exposed to the
After the incident, the Ohio EPA appointed
investigator Mike Czeczele as the contact person for matters
concerning Brush Wellman.
Last night, he told the crowd the
Ohio EPA plans to install three air monitors and do independent
sampling of the air leaving the plant. He said investigators sampled
water from eight nearby homes to see whether it was contaminated by
beryllium. The results, he said, are not available
People who could not attend last night’s meeting can
call the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta
or Chicago, or can write the agency.
A Blade investigative
series in 1999 documented a 50-year pattern of misconduct by the
federal government and the beryllium industry. Among the findings:
Government and industry officials knowingly allowed workers to be
exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust. The series sparked major