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Testimony of Environmental Justice Action Group,
Tucson, Arizona
to the Lorain City Council

 

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 conducted.

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 with CBD.

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 Tucson plant.

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