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February 17, 2001


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Article published February 17, 2001

Ohio EPA looks for beryllium in sampling


ELMORE - The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is testing samples swiped from a house and other places outside the Brush Wellman plant to see if there is any residue from a chemical reaction Thursday that sent beryllium into the air in a cloud of smoke.

Environmental and government officials were trying yesterday to determine what caused the heat-based reaction inside the 55-gallon drum containing beryllium chips outside a building at Brush Wellman about 20 miles southeast of Toledo in Ottawa County. The smoke was carried out of the plant and near some area homes. Seven houses were evacuated until the air cleared.

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.

The amount of beryllium in the air when it was tested Thursday morning was 0.65 micrograms per cubic meter. That is within the safety standard of 2 micrograms per cubic meter set for indoors by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

For outdoors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an emission limit of an amount that over a 30-day period would average 0.01 micrograms per cubic meter.

Three Brush Wellman air monitors stationed outside the plant read air levels well below 0.01 micrograms, according to the company. It said the highest reading on the monitors was 0.00073 micrograms per cubic meter, with the other two at 0.00027 and 0.00032 micrograms. The monitors were sent to the OEPA yesterday morning, said Larry Chako, the Elmore plant manager for environmental and utility services.

"What we’re seeing is they’re in the low to average range, nothing out of the ordinary," Mr. Chako said.

The OEPA sent samples taken from a house, a rock, and two birdhouses on nearby property to a lab for testing to see if they contained any traces of beryllium. Those results were not available yesterday.

"We also have different divisions looking at Brush’s emergency response team to see if there was anything that could have been done better," OEPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer said.

Mr. Chako said a thermal camera was set up to detect heat in other drums in case this happens again.

Someone at the plant noticed smoke coming out of the drum about 9 a.m. Thursday. An emergency plan was activated and sand was dumped on the drum, which was moved to a building. Workers and residents in the path of the plume were evacuated.

Ottawa County Emergency Management director Jim Greer credited the lack of apparent injuries to an emergency response plan set up between Brush and the county. "Things went very well this time," he said. "They have been working with the county on an emergency management plan."

Some residents and Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental group with 150,000 members, yesterday called again for Brush to pay to test residents to see if they have beryllium disease.

The group said the testing is especially important now that Thursday’s release showed that beryllium can leave the site. The agency late last year conducted tests that it said revealed beryllium dust on the car of one resident and in the homes of current and former workers.

Mr. Chako said the testing is unnecessary because there is no evidence that residents’ health has been affected by beryllium. He also said the blood test given to workers is not meant to be a screening device for the general population, so using it to test residents would be inappropriate.

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