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October 25, 2001


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Article published October 25, 2001

Regional News
More tests suggested near Brush Wellman

ELMORE - More independent testing should be done here to get a complete picture of beryllium exposure among residents living near the Brush Wellman plant, a federal agency has recommended.

The suggestion was made in a draft report, reviewed last night by Elmore-area residents, which concluded that no beryllium levels posing a health hazard were found in recent water or air samplings at sites near the plant.

The samplings were collected by Brush Wellman and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

About 30 residents attended a public hearing about the report at the Elmore Community Center.

The Atlanta-based federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said there are gaps in the data it analyzed. So, it recommended that it conduct additional exposure testing by collecting its own samples and analyzing the results.

In its summary, the agency stated it "cannot fully evaluate possible environmental pathways for beryllium exposure" because of what it called "data gaps."

The agency lacks adequate data on the level of beryllium dust in homes near the plant and how much is found on vehicles of Brush Wellman employees.

Nor does the agency know how much beryllium dust travels from the plant when there are furnace fires or mishaps involving the plantís air pollution control equipment.

The exposure testing would examine up to about 30 Elmore-area homes for the presence of beryllium dust.

The agency said it can ensure that the identities of the homeowners will not be made public.

The agency will accept public comment on the draft report through Nov. 26.

Peter Kowalski, an environmental health scientist for the agency, said he would like to begin exposure testing in the next few months, and would hope to have it finished by early spring.

He said exposure testing remains a priority for the agency, even though it has had to devote much attention to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

"This is an important site to us," Lynn Wilder, an official with the agency said. "We have pushed back other things, but not this."

The agency also recommends considering biological testing, if the results of the exposure investigation testing warrant it, Mr. Kowalski said. Such testing screens blood samples to measure whether a personís immune system has been sensitized to beryllium. The agency should develop health education materials explaining exposure to the dust and chronic beryllium disease for residents and medical professionals.

The agency also had a series of recommendations for Brush Wellman and OEPA:

w The firm should notify residents of its community advisory panel meetings and provide newsletters about its work. It should inform residents about results of environmental monitoring and results of air monitoring sampling.

w The OEPA should initiate public meetings or have other ways of exchanging information with residents about the plant and perform additional well water sampling of residences near the plant, and perform ambient air monitoring for beryllium.

In 1999, The Blade documented a 50-year pattern of misconduct by the federal government and the beryllium industry. Among the findings: Government and industry officials knowingly allowed workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust.

The series sparked major safety reforms. The Blade detailed how beryllium disease was emerging in a variety of industries, including machining, recycling, and the dental businesses. The newspaper found that many companies handling beryllium were not following government safety rules.

About 1,200 people nationwide have contracted beryllium disease, a fatal lung ailment, since the 1940s, including at least 75 present or former workers at the Brush Wellman plant near Elmore.

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