March 27, 2000
We are concerned community residents who are angry about corporations
moving into our area, utilizing taxpayers' money to operate, and causing
serious illnesses to workers and other community persons through
careless handling of known toxic materials. We are angry about official
agencies taking little initiative to ensure safety for workers and the
public. This describes our feelings about Brush Wellman's beryllium
plant here in Tucson where the impact has been severe to workers, and we
fear the health impacts in the surrounding community may be significant
as well. Unfortunately, no health surveys or monitoring have been
Brush Wellman's Tucson plant is located on a federal Superfund Site in a
predominantly low-income, Hispanic region of town. This plant, built in
1982, was made possible by a $3 million bond issue. Brush located this
facility, adjacent to five public schools within a 3,000 ft. radius, and
near a school
administration building. They have yet to install ANY air-monitoring
stations outside its own property. We believe Brush Wellman should fund
and maintain air monitors at each school yard location.
We became aware of the problems at Brush Wellman from a series of
articles in the Arizona Daily Star in May of 1999. Researchers have
documented that Brush Wellman’s Tucson plant has the highest rate of
Chronic Beryllium Disease, among workers and former workers, of all of
Brush Wellman’s operations.
At the time Brush Wellman located in Tucson, the company was working to
defeat federal government proposals designed to better protect workers
from beryllium factory dust. Tucson employees in the 1980's were not
properly warned about safety procedures. Now, twenty five current or
former Brush workers from the Tucson plant have contracted CBD. Twelve
more have abnormal blood tests, indicating they too may develop the
disease. Many of the 907 people who worked at this plant have never
been tested. Eleven of the beryllium contaminated workers have had to
appeal to a higher court after a judge barred them from suing Brush
Wellman for damages under Arizona's restrictive Workers Compensation
Law. The Arizona State Compensation Fund is paying for Brush Wellman's
legal bills in its beryllium disease legal defense cases.
The Brush Wellman Tucson plant has a new plant manager. The retiring
manager has come down
In 1994, the Tucson plant had a failure of a ventilation duct, resulting
in streaks of beryllium powder on the outside of the duct. We don’t
know how much was actually released into our environment. Five years
after this "upset", the Pima County Health Department conducted soil
sampling (which we believe to be inadequate and scientifically
meaningless) and reported their results to the public in late November,
1999. They concluded that the presence of beryllium was not
significantly greater than background levels. The problem with this
study is natural or background beryllium is bound chemically, not
respirable, and therefore not harmful to people. Beryllium oxide, which
is what was involved in this accident, is respirable and is harmful.
What the health department studied and what actually happened are hardly
comparable. The information about Brush Wellman and beryllium that was
distributed at that meeting was written by Brush Wellman. We believe it
downplayed the deadliness of beryllium and the possible exposure risks
to the surrounding community.
Brush Wellman's air permit was up for renewal last November. We have
studied many facets of Brush Wellman's operations and the various
federal and state regulations regarding beryllium. We have had to dig
hard for the information since it is not readily available. Our County
Department of Environmental Quality has been cooperative in providing us
with the documents they have, but we are convinced they have been lax in
their oversight of Brush operations due to a lack of technical
expertise, a shortage of personnel, tight budget, and inadequate
regulations from an industry-friendly state government. The present
permit fails to require the company to monitor the air, assess the
effectiveness of the filters or maintain them so they don't fail. Like
in Ohio, Brush Wellman monitors itself. Our questions to the U.S. EPA are
still being processed.
We are concerned whether there is a plan for emergency evacuation of the
area in case of a bad accident at the plant, or notification of
neighboring schools and businesses. Our request for a copy of Brush
Wellman's emergency preparedness plan has not been fulfilled.
Another disturbing fact is that much of the medical literature about
beryllium has been written by Brush Wellman, a company that has a vested
interest in continuing its production and processing of this material.
And, we are told that the top official in OSHA who is responsible for
researching CBD is a former Brush Wellman employee.
We believe there is a need for BLPT tests for students, faculty and
staff of neighboring schools, workers in other businesses in the area,
and residents who have lived in the area in the last 18 years. We
believe that Brush Wellman should fund those tests.
We believe it should be the obligation of a business to prove that it
will be a "good neighbor" in the community, and the obligation of
government agencies to ensure full compliance with environmental
regulations. We believe that neither has taken place at Brush Wellman’s
We believe that citizens should not have to do the kind of searches we
have had to conduct in order to find out what is happening in our
community in regards to the beryllium plant. There needs to be public
archives that have complete information, and with a retrieval system
that everyone can understand.
We believe that the role of federal, state and local governments should
be to protect people and not be so "industry friendly" as to ignore
serious health hazards which may not become evident until years later.
We believe there is no level of emissions of beryllium that are
acceptable or safe for workers or community people. We believe the
original regulations were chosen so as not to interfere with production
of war-related materials, during the pressure of wartime. We believe the
regulations should call for "zero release". We believe it is important
for industry to research alternate, non-toxic substitutes so as to
avoid having to use beryllium. We don't want this dangerous material to
be processed anywhere in the United States. Neither do we want its
processing to be moved to a less knowledgeable nation, taking advantage
of their innocence, as we in Tucson have been taken advantage of.
Environmental Justice Action Group
P.O. Box 85513
Tucson, AZ 85754