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January 10, 2001


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Article published January 10, 2001

Residents urge wider testing for beryllium dust near plant

GENOA - Residents concerned about the health hazards caused by beryllium produced at the Brush Wellman plant near here urged a local environmental group last night to conduct more testing of residents and the families of workers.

Bernadette Eriksen said she lived nine years next to the plant near Elmore. She said testing would allow her to find out whether beryllium, a material linked to a fatal lung disease, is inside her house.

"I am willing to pay for [testing] out of my own pocket, she said.

About 40 residents, workers, and activists attended a meeting in the public library here to discuss efforts to expand the sampling in the community.

The forum was sponsored by Ohio Citizen Action, the state’s largest environmental activist organization. The group has called for an independent study of workers’ and residents’ homes and vehicles to determine how much beryllium has gotten off the Brush Wellman facility and into the community.

Others who spoke last night asked for testing of the Portage River, farmland, and residential wells. Ohio Citizen Action was told of the need to have any testing done independent from the state Environmental Protection Agency.

"Clean up the [darn] place. I don’t think that is too much to ask. All the thinking in the world is not going to cure it," Brian Sharples, who lives near the plant, said.

The forum followed the release last month of testing results compiled by Ohio Citizen Action that found beryllium dust in the homes and vehicles of six current and former Brush Wellman employees. It reported finding beryllium on the car of a resident who lives across the street from the plant.

Beryllium is a lightweight metal. Its dust can cause an incurable, often-fatal lung disease. Brush Wellman processes beryllium, which is used in the defense, automotive, and electronic industries.

Ohio Citizen Action wants the company and the government to pay for the testing of more residents and workers’ families to see whether they have been affected by the beryllium. The group has been pushing for reforms in the way companies handle beryllium.

"We think people have the right to know if they have been exposed," Sarah Ogdahl, director of Ohio Citizen Action’s Toledo office, said.

She said more scientific sampling conducted by an independent organization is needed throughout the community.

"We need to take hundreds of samples," Ms. Ogdahl said. "We need to have Brush Wellman and the U.S. government pay for that. We need the money, and we believe it should come from the government and the company."

Several Brush Wellman workers raised questions about the sampling methods used by Mrs. Ogdahl’s group.

Gary Darnell, who works at the plant, compared the health hazards related to beryllium to deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.

"Are you going to boycott everything that kills people," he said. "Brush does what it can to protect the workers."

Mr. Darnell said he believes Ohio Citizen Action is making unfair demands on Brush Wellman and not working with the company to address the health problems.

"We are demanding the company make the plant safer," Ms. Ogdahl said. "We think people have the right to know if they have been exposed."

Brush Wellman officials were not invited to the meeting. But a company representative distributed a "facts about beryllium and Brush Wellman" sheet to people as they entered the meeting.

State Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Port Clinton) and Everett Woodel, staff member in the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort) attended the meeting.

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