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Lorain requests company to ban beryllium manufacture

Cindy Leise
The Chronicle-Telegram

    LORAIN -- City officials said they have asked Brush Wellman Inc. to voluntarily agree to ban the manufacture of beryllium and beryllium compounds in the city.

The company has not yet responded to a letter asking for the voluntary ban, said assistant city Law Director George Koury.

The request comes after a city councilwoman proposed an ordinance to forbid the production of beryllium in the city.

If the company does not voluntarily agree to the ban, Council could declare beryllium a nuisance and ban its manufacture in the city, Koury said.

City Councilwoman Kathy Tavenner, D-at large, said she has been researching the effects of beryllium in the event an ordinance is required.

She said the city of Lorain has a sad history with the substance, which can cause a fatal lung disease.

At least six people who worked at or lived near the former Brush Beryllium plant at West First Street and Hamilton Avenue died from chronic beryllium disease, a study showed. Another 21 workers and 20 people who lived near the plant during the 1930s and 1940s contracted the disease, the study said.

The plant was destroyed by a fire in 1948 when a boiler exploded.

These days, no beryllium is being manufactured at the Brush Wellman plant in the Lorain Industrial Park off Baumhart Road, according to a spokesman for the company, B.J. Fischer.

On Wednesday night, the ABC-TV news show "20/20" featured a segment on beryllium but did not mention the plant in Lorain or the city's proposed ban.

The report quoted extensively former Chronicle-Telegram copy editor Sam Roe, who wrote a series about chronic beryllium disease for The Toledo Blade.

Fischer said the company has not yet decided how to respond to the request for an outright ban on beryllium production in Lorain.

When the current plant was built in 1996, company officials "did not want to close the door on it," Fischer said.

Amy Ryder, Cleveland area director of Ohio Citizen Action, said the group hopes that Brush Wellman voluntarily agrees to the ban in Lorain.

The group submitted about 1,300 postcards to Mayor Craig Foltin supporting the ban, and more than 800 signatures were gathered on petitions.

One public official in Lorain, Anne Molnar, D-at large, said she does not support the petition drive or the proposed ban on the manufacture of beryllium.

"How can we possibly say we ban beryllium when it is used for the defense of our country?" she asked. "It is used in fighter planes, missiles, bazookas, X-rays, mammograms and even in your television."

Molnar said her son, who works for the Air Force, uses all kind of equipment that uses beryllium.

On Monday night, Molnar proposed banning any solicitation, either door-to-door or over the telephone, after sundown. She said she received complaints from at least four senior citizens about the Ohio Citizen Action solicitors.

Donald Rumbler, president of the Lorain chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, said he supports Molnar's proposal "100 percent."

Rumbler said he was annoyed when a young man with a clipboard knocked on his door after dark and wanted him to sign something. He said he suspects the man was one of the beryllium petition solicitors.

But Ryder and others, including the Rev. Steve Behr of the American Civil Liberties Union, question the constitutionality of Molnar's proposal.

Behr said he was pleased when the city Law Department said Wednesday that banning solicitation after sunset has been deemed unconstitutional by the appellate courts. The ruling from Law Director Mark Provenza said laws allowing solicitation until 9 p.m. appear to be constitutional.

Tavenner said she thought Molnar's proposal was politically motivated and an attack on the effort to ban beryllium.

"There are a lot of intelligent people in the city of Lorain," Tavenner said. "If they want to answer the door, they will. If they don't, they won't."

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