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Thursday, October 25, 2001

Federal agency plans new investigation at Brush Wellman plant


Staff writer


ELMORE -- During a Wednesday meeting in which emotions ran high at times, residents learned of a federal agency's plans to conduct a follow-up investigation regarding beryllium from the Brush Wellman plant.

Representatives from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Wednesday presented the findings from its draft health consultation, answered questions and took more comments.

Peter Kowalski, an environment health specialist with ATSDR, said the agency would survey about 30 homes around the plant. The residents will be current and former Brush Wellman workers, non-beryllium workers who live near the plant and some who live five to 10 miles from the plant. The agency also would like to include workers who work with beryllium at other machine shops.

Those results would likely be available by early next year, he said.

ATSDR first started the consultation in July at the urging of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, who expressed concern about Brush Wellman workers possibly unknowingly taking traces of beryllium home on their clothes.

The dust from the beryllium metal can cause chronic beryllium disease.

The ATSDR draft report could not come up with conclusive findings until further study was done -- to the disappointment of some residents -- but did say based on testing from the plant and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, that drinking wells near Brush tested negative for the metal.

Some residents say it's hard to remain optimistic about the pending investigation.

"It's the same think, talk 'til you're blue in the face and get nowhere,' " said Barb Renwand, the wife of Gary Renwand, who is living with CBD.

One Elmore man living with the disease said changes need to be made.

Bob Bowman worked for the company for six years in the early 1960s and developed CBD four years ago. Now retired, Bowman said he harbors no ill will toward the company, but still wants changes in the federal regulations to make handling beryllium safer.

"It's hard to be objective when you have CBD and live with it everyday," he said after the meeting. "I have no personal animosity toward the company ... but on the other side of the coin I do believe there are some people there who don't understand the plight of these people."

He said the entire Brush Wellman procedure for working with beryllium and contracting out to other machine shops needs to be scrutinized more closely.

Brush Wellman Manager Larry Chako said Wednesday the company is trying to reach out to the community to educate about beryllium and what Brush is doing to sample the air and water around the plant.

It created a Community Advisory Panel made up of residents -- some of whom are not fans of the company -- but the topics that CAP discusses are not widely available, according to the ATSDR draft report.

Now the company is looking into ways that information can get to the public, Chako said.

And while meetings such as Wednesday's can be the center of emotional exchanges between residents defending the plant and others condemning it, Chako said the dialogue is helpful.

"For Brush Wellman, it was good to understand the concerns and feelings of the public," he said after the meeting.

Gary Donnell has worked at the plant for 21 years in maintenance, and said he can't condemn a company he believes didn't have the technology 20 years ago to protect its workers from dangers now known.

"No one's arm is being twisted to stay there," he said. "I don't like to see people raking Brush over the coals, because they've tried."

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The Elmore plant has been in operation since 1953.