Ohio Citizen Action: Brush now "much safer" for employees and neighbors

For immediate release
September 17, 2002

Amy Ryder, Ohio Citizen Action
(216) 861-5200
(216) 577-8317 cell

Ohio Citizen Action said today the Brush Wellman beryllium plant in Elmore, Ohio, is "much safer" for employees and neighbors than in 1999. In a letter to Brush Chairman Gordon Harnett, Ohio Citizen Action’s Amy Ryder said the group had successfully completed the 'good neighbor' campaign it began three years ago.

"Since disease and death still haunt this community, it would be unseemly to use the word ‘victory,’ Ryder said. "Brush Wellman’s recent improvements, however, are significant, and go well beyond what many thought possible. Elmore is now a much safer place."

In the letter, Ryder cited the closing of the pure beryllium unit at the plant, which has reduced total beryllium air emissions by 77%. The company also created transition zones within the plant to prevent cross-contamination of beryllium within the different parts of the facility. All production employees are now required to wear respirators and go through decontamination at the end of a shift, including the use of air showers and separate locker rooms for storing work and street clothing.

Ryder said these and other improvements had been confirmed in an August inspection by Peter Kowalski, environmental health scientist at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

According to Ryder, Citizen Action will continue to work with the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry on their exposure investigation which is looking for paths of beryllium exposure in the communities surrounding the Elmore plant.

Beryllium is a hard, lightweight metal used in military hardware, cars and trucks, dental work, electronics, computers and cell phones. Brush Wellman, Inc., headquartered in Cleveland, is by far the world's largest manufacturer of beryllium products. Working with beryllium creates toxic dust and fumes, which can cause incurable beryllium disease or lung cancer. In 1997, a government study found that one-tenth of the workers at Brush's Elmore plant had beryllium disease or were beryllium-sensitized, and thus in danger of developing the disease.

Ryder said: "Many courageous people from Elmore –- including Dave and Theresa Norgard, the late Butch Lemke and Betty Lemke, Gary and Barb Renwand -– are responsible for sounding the alarm about the dangerous conditions at this facility. They showed us that, though nothing can bring back the wonderful people we have lost to this disease, we can all do our best to keep anyone else from having to suffer its effects.

The 20,000 Ohio Citizen Action members across northern Ohio who wrote letters to Brush Wellman executives made a big difference. The leaders of Brush Wellman recognized that conditions at the plant had to change, and have shown that they will institute changes that go significantly beyond what the weak federal and state regulatory system require."

Ohio Citizen Action, with 100,000 dues-paying members, also has good-neighbor campaigns underway involving Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Port Clinton, American Landfill in Stark county, Columbus Steel Drum in Gahanna, and AK Steel in Middletown.

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