published June 27, 2001Regional
Health agency looks at reported
BY KELLY LECKER
ELMORE - Members of a federal public health
agency plan to meet with residents living near the Brush Wellman
plant today as part of an investigation into whether beryllium could
The Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry also is meeting today with officials from Ohio
Citizen Action, a group that says it found beryllium in homes
outside the plant, and tomorrow with Brush officials, who argue they
have taken great lengths to protect the public and keep beryllium
inside the plant.
"We welcome their visit, we welcome their
study, and we welcome their interest," Brush spokesman Patrick
Carpenter said, adding that he is confident the study will find
there is no danger.
The federal agency, which is an
organization within the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, will not have a public hearing. Instead, officials will be
at the Elmore Community Center from 6 to 9 p.m. to listen to any
resident who wants to talk to them about their health concerns
related to beryllium.
Beryllium is a strong, lightweight
metal used in the defense, automotive, and electronic industries. It
is used to make, among other things, nuclear bombs.
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
The health agency will investigate whether air
emissions from the beryllium plant pose any threat to community
members and whether there have been health hazards in the past from
beryllium carried out of the plant on workers’ clothes.
Citizen Action conducted a small study of homes and cars near the
plant and said it found beryllium residue in five of the six
workers’ houses and three workers’ cars, and that it also found
beryllium residue on the car of a resident who did not work at the
The group has been pushing for testing of area
residents, a move the company has insisted is not
Brush Wellman denied the environmental
organization’s claims that beryllium was leaving the plant and
questioned the validity of way the study was handled.
Ryder, Ohio Citizen Action’s Cleveland director, said there is a
need for the federal health agency not only to talk to residents,
but to take independent samples from area homes.
"We are not
alarmists. I would never go out and say the whole town is in danger.
But I would say there is enough evidence to warrant an
investigation," she said. "What is most important is that this
becomes a project that the ATSDR does with the community, and just
the community. This is not a project that should include Brush
Clayton Koher, a regional representative for the
disease registry in Chicago, said investigators have been collecting
data from environmental agencies to determine whether there are
harmful air emissions from the plant.
Ohio Citizen Action
requested that the agency test the air and test area homes. Mr Koher
said investigators could decide to do its own sampling, but usually
they use the data available from environmental agencies.
are not the primary collector of that data. Our agency’s job is to
collect data from environmental arms," Mr. Koher said. "We are a
The disease registry is coming to Elmore at
the request of U.S. Senator Mike DeWine (R. Ohio). The senator asked
that the federal agency look into whether there were health hazards
last year, but got no response. His office renewed its request in
The agency is the federal public health agency for
hazardous waste issues and will take the lead in the investigation,
with help from the Ohio Department of Health. When its investigation
into the Elmore plant is finished, officials will release their
findings and recommendations to correct any health risks.
federal health agency is not a regulatory body. Instead, it
recommends action to regulators, including the state and federal
Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Carpenter of Brush
Wellman said the company constantly monitors the air around the
plant and said the level of beryllium is typically 10 times to 100
times lower than the EPA standard.
"Stated differently, this
is the equivalent of crumbling up a brick and distributing it
through a 10-foot high air space above the state of Ohio," he said
in a statement.
Brush’s critics say any exposure to beryllium
is too much. Ms. Ryder said it should be left up to an independent
agency like this public health body to determine whether residents
are in danger.
"They need to do significant sampling," she
A Blade investigative series in 1999 documented a
50-year pattern of misconduct by the federal government and the
Among the findings: Government and
industry officials knowingly allowed workers to be exposed to unsafe
levels of beryllium dust. The series sparked major safety