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August 08, 2002

 



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Regional News | Article published Thursday, August 8, 2002
Brush workers’ homes to be tested
Feds ask if beryllium escapes from factory

By KELLY LECKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER


ELMORE - A federal public health agency plans to test the homes of beryllium workers to see if beryllium is leaving the Brush Wellman plant.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told residents at meetings yesterday that air emissions from the Brush Wellman plant are not posing a health hazard for neighbors. The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has been studying concerns of residents about beryllium exposure for the past year.

Levels of beryllium leaving the plant by air were within federal standards, based on 30-day averages from air monitors near the plant.

There were incidents where the air level was higher than the federal standard, including a barrel fire in February, 2001. The health impact of those isolated events cannot be determined, said ATSDR environmental health scientist Peter Kowalski .

"The risk of disease is probably very low, but it’s not quantifiable," he said.

Brush Wellman was not in violation of Environmental Protection Agency standards during the events, because the EPA regulations only provide limits for 30-day averages of beryllium in the air; over a month the average amount of beryllium in the air was still within guidelines. There is no limit for the level of beryllium in the air on a single day, said Mike Czeczele of the Ohio EPA.

But the toxic substances agency could not determine whether beryllium is getting into workers’ homes from their clothes or bodies. The agency is developing tests to look for beryllium in homes.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the defense, automotive, and electronics industries. It is used to make, among other things, nuclear bombs. Beryllium dust can cause chronic and sometimes fatal lung disease for those who inhale it. More than 1,200 people nationwide, including former and current workers at Brush Wellman, have contracted beryllium disease since the 1940s.

As a result of the agency’s health study, some changes have been made by the Ohio EPA in testing for beryllium and other materials. In January, the EPA started testing from its own air monitor at the plant in response to residents’ concerns that only Brush Wellman was taking air samples. The levels from that air monitor have been within federal standards, Mr. Czeczele said.

The agency has tested wells for chlorinated solvents that are found on the plant site. These solvents have not been found in private wells, but Mr. Czeczele said the EPA will continue to test wells in case that changes.

The agency recommended that Brush Wellman work harder to communicate with people who live near the plant and said that it should notify the Ohio EPA when there is any potential for beryllium to leave the site. Regulations required only that the plant notify the state when a large amount of beryllium leaves the plant.

Mr. Czeczele of the EPA said Brush Wellman has contacted his agency when beryllium might be leaving the plant. He cautioned residents that measuring air levels of beryllium in those cases is difficult at best. "If it’s an air release, it’s probably going to be gone. Air is one of the hardest things to look at," he said.

Loren Sampson, a 42-year Brush Wellman employee, said he is concerned about companies in the area that contract with Brush Wellman and bring beryllium into their businesses.

"They don’t have the resources" to protect workers against beryllium disease, he said.

Mr. Kowalski said his agency recommended these companies, commonly called "downstream" beryllium users, get safety information and contact the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which will evaluate possible hazards to workers.

Bernadette Eriksen, who lives near the plant, asked the agency to do its own testing and not rely on data from Brush Wellman and the EPA. Mr. Kowalski said the agency will test workers’ homes but will not do its own air sampling and well testing because it is in Atlanta.



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