Article published Friday, August 2, 2002|
Study: Beryllium dust not hazard
Brush Wellman’s neighbors are
By KELLY LECKER
ELMORE, Ohio - Beryllium dust escaping in the
air near the Brush Wellman plant and in well water does not pose a
health hazard to neighbors, according to a federal health
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
also looked into possible health issues from beryllium dust leaving
the plant on workers’ clothes. It could not determine whether that
dust would harm area residents but said it plans to test the homes
of workers for beryllium dust.
Brush Wellman spokesman
Patrick Carpenter said the company was pleased with the
"It confirms what we’ve said all along," he said.
"Perhaps most important of all are ATSDR’s conclusions about the
safety of living near Brush Wellman.’’
who lives near the plant, said she’s angry the agency didn’t test
people near the plant or do their own air sampling.
saw them out here testing any air. I never heard anyone questioning
the neighbors. I just think based on the evidence I saw it’s being
brushed under the rug again," she said.
The public health
agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
will have two public hearings Wednesday to release the results of
the study to residents. The meetings will be from 2 to 4 and from 7
to 9 p.m. at the Elmore Community Center, 410 Clinton
Residents have been saying for years that they feared
beryllium dust was escaping from the plant and endangering their
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the
defense, automotive, and electronic industries. It is used to make,
among other things, nuclear bombs.
Beryllium dust can cause
chronic and sometimes fatal lung problems for those who inhale it.
About 1,200 people nationwide have contracted beryllium disease, a
fatal lung ailment, since the 1940s, including at least 75 current
or former workers at the Brush Wellman plant near Elmore.
federal health agency studied Brush Wellman and the area around the
plant on the request of Sen. Mike DeWine (R.,
Investigators did not conduct air sampling of their
own, but instead reviewed records from Brush Wellman and state
agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Critics have
said the health agency should have done its own testing.
Ryder, Cleveland director of the environmental group Ohio Citizen
Action, had asked that the Atlanta-based health agency do its own
testing to determine whether beryllium dust was harming neighbors.
Yesterday she said she was pleased with the results of the study.
Citizen Action tested workers’ and neighbors’ homes two years ago
and said it found beryllium.
"They’re going to do a more
wide-scale basis," she said.
Based on the existing
information, air emissions of beryllium are below levels believed to
cause problems and they do not pose a health hazard, said Peter
Kowalski, the toxic registry agency’s environmental health
scientist. The conclusion is based on 30-day averages over several
years. The agency cannot say whether there was a health danger
during certain incidents, like when a smoke cloud was released in a
chemical reaction Feb. 15 and the air levels were higher than
There is not enough information for the registry
agency to tell if beryllium dust is going home with workers, and if
that is harmful, so the agency labeled it an "indeterminate public
health hazard." It also recommended that its own investigators test
"In order for chronic beryllium disease to
occur there has to be some level of exposure, even if we don’t know
what that is," Mr. Kowalski said. "We will be testing dust and
possibly air samples."
There are health standards for the
amount of beryllium that should be allowed in the air but there are
not studies on how much beryllium in solid form is dangerous.
Because of this, Mr. Kowalski said the agency won’t be able to tell
residents if the amount it finds is dangerous. He said there is just
not enough information.
What the testing will tell them is
whether Brush Wellman is doing an adequate job of making sure
beryllium dust stays on site and doesn’t go home with the workers,
Mr. Kowalski said.
Mr. Carpenter of Brush Wellman said the
company feels the federal agency’s study won’t give them any more
information about safety issues - because there are no safety
standards for solid beryllium - and said the plant does a good job
of keeping beryllium onsite.