published February 18, 2001
Brush douses fire;
Handling of accidents
perturbs state agency
BY TOM HENRY
ELMORE - The second accident in three days
occurred yesterday at the Brush Wellman plant here, this time a fire
inside the facility.
And like Thursday’s accident, when a
chemical reaction in a 55-gallon barrel caused a 100-foot-wide plume
of beryllium-tainted smoke to waft through a residential area, the
company did not immediately notify the Ohio Environmental Protection
Yesterday’s fire occurred at 3:15 p.m. near a melting
furnace, where a slight crack allowed molten metal to drip on floor
paint, said Larry Chako, Brush environmental and utility services
"It was just a tiny fire. It was out in a matter of
minutes," he said.
The plant’s emergency response team
extinguished the blaze.
The Ottawa County sheriff’s office
put Elmore volunteer firefighters on standby in case the fire
Workers were evacuated temporarily from the building
where the fire occurred because many metals heated at the plant
contain trace amounts of beryllium - a metal linked to a deadly lung
If any beryllium was released, it was quickly
trapped by the building’s air filters. Workers were sent back in
when the blaze was extinguished because indoor air tests showed no
beryllium present, Mr. Chako said.
regulators view the two events as proof that the company has gotten
lackadaisical about communicating with them.
assistant chief of the Ohio EPA’s district office in Bowling Green,
said he plans to take up the matter with Brush.
Even if no
laws were broken, the company needs to improve its notification
procedures and open up access to agency inspectors, Mr. Steers
On both occasions, Brush’s primary contact has been
with the sheriff’s office.
The company believes it is
obligated to call state and federal regulators only when there is a
"reportable quantity" of a substance released, Mr. Chako
For smaller incidents, the company contacts the
sheriff’s office under a countywide emergency plan, which calls for
the sheriff’s office to notify the Ohio EPA and other agencies, Mr.
Mr. Steers said the company, to be a good
corporate citizen, should take it upon itself to notify the Ohio EPA
whenever there is an accident - regardless how big or
"We are charged with protecting human health and the
environment," he said. "We’ll make the call on when we should
Regulators are perturbed about the company’s
decision to limit access to one of their inspectors Thursday, Mr.
Mike Czeczele, supervisor of the Ohio EPA’s
emergency and remedial response unit in Bowling Green, responded to
the accident - but found out about it only because he happened to be
listening to a police and fire scanner, said Heather Lauer, Ohio EPA
Mr. Czeczele, a volunteer for the Elmore fire
department, is trained to use a self-contained breathing device, Mr.
Brush allowed him onto its property, but did not
let him into the contained area where the chemicals were vaporizing.
The company claimed safety reasons: Mr. Czeczele did not have his
own respirator and did not have medical clearance to use one from
the company, Mr. Chako said.
That explanation didn’t sit well
with Mr. Steers, one of Mr. Czeczele’s supervisors.
still unanswered questions how all this happened," Mr. Steers said.
"We want to make sure there’s not a repeat of
Beryllium is a metal used to make nuclear
Seven homes southwest of the plant were evacuated as
a precaution after Thursday’s event, because of trace amounts of
beryllium in the plume. Exposure to even small amounts of beryllium
dust can cause a chronic, fatal lung disease.
still trying to figure out what caused the chemical reaction. Test
results on the container are expected to be completed tomorrow, Mr.
"We still don’t know why [the 55-gallon drum] did
what it did," he said.