Beryllium plant cited for dryer ventBy
Pima County officials cited a southside beryllium
plant for installing and venting a clothes dryer to the
The dryer laundered worker uniforms tainted with the
toxic metallic dust at Brush Wellman Inc., 6100 S.
A plant official yesterday blamed the failure to
report the installation and operation of the dryer on an
administrative error and said there was no threat to
But the violation notice comes as neighborhood
activists are pushing Pima County to impose stronger
monitoring requirements as it renews the plant's
Beryllium is chiefly a threat to workers inside the
plant. At least 25 workers exposed to beryllium dust
since the plant opened in 1980 have contracted chronic
beryllium disease, a lung ailment that can slowly
smother its victims.
Blood tests on at least a dozen others have shown
they developed a beryllium allergy that often precedes
The violation notice issued Monday stemmed from a
surprise inspection on Sept. 20 and 21.
An inspector from the county Department of
Environmental Quality asked whether the two clothes
dryers in the laundry room were vented into the plant's
pollution control system and was told they were, county
But the inspector found one dryer vented directly to
An investigation showed Brush Wellman's most recent
permit application described both dryers as being vented
to the dust control system that filters air in the plant
before sending it out through a 60-foot stack.
Steve Mattix, the plant's director of environmental
quality, said the company planned to vent both dryers
through the system, but the pilot light on one kept
He said Brush Wellman wasn't trying to conceal
anything when it neglected to update its permit
application to show that it ultimately vented that dryer
through the roof instead of through the
"What happened was basically an administrative error
on our part," Mattix said.
An annual stack test last November showed the plant
stack emitting nearly one-hundredth of a gram of
beryllium a day - well within the federal limit of 10
Tests last May on the clothes dryer vent showed it
would add a barely perceptible amount to the total
emissions, still well within the federal limit, Mattix
The dryer is now being vented inside the plant after
running through a newly installed filter, he said.
DEQ spokeswoman Frances Dominguez said the county is
waiting for more information from the company before
considering potential penalties. Mattix said county
officials have not mentioned any possible fines.
Pat Birnie, of the Environmental Justice Action
Group, said the violation underscores the need to
further restrict emissions.
A dryer probably emits very small amounts, she
acknowledged, but research suggests the smallest
beryllium particles are the most dangerous to inhale.
"So even though it's only a tiny amount in quantity,
that's no excuse," Birnie said.
Last month, President Clinton signed legislation to
provide health care and a $150,000 lump sum payment to
sick employees of Brush Wellman and other government
Federal officials acknowledged this year that the
Energy and Defense departments sometimes put weapons
production ahead of worker safety in the Cold War rush
to make nuclear weapons.
* Contact Enric Volante at 807-7790 or firstname.lastname@example.org