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Friday, February 23, 2001

Plant should agree to pay for testing of area residents


We're glad to see Brush Wellman officials taking a proactive approach toward two recent incidents, but we'd like to see them go further and agree to testing demanded last week by neighbors of the Elmore area plant.

Brush Wellman officials said they would meet with state and county officials to discuss the company's performance during an accident at the plant Feb. 15, as well as during a minor weekend fire.

Feb. 15, a vapor containing traces of beryllium escaped from a 55-gallon drum outside the plant. No one was injured, but roads were blocked off and seven homes evacuated as a precaution.

Then Saturday, a fire started in a melting furnace when molten aluminum beryllium alloy was being poured into a casting. The plant emergency response team doused the fire, but the building was evacuated until the air within the area could be tested for possible contamination.

Brush Wellman is only required to contact the EPA if the amount of a release is greater than that listed by the law for certain chemicals, and if it gets into the outside environment. While Brush did not notify the EPA of the fire Saturday, officials did contact the Ottawa County Sheriff's office which put the Harris-Elmore Fire Department on standby and contacted the EPA.

The notification policy and procedures were among the topics that company officials planned to discuss during meetings with state and county officials.

That attempt to reach out to the various agencies is a good sign of concern on the part of Brush officials.

But they have a lot of image polishing to do and a lot of fears to calm and questions to answer.

For those reasons, the company should respond positively to demands that it share the cost of a series of beryllium exposure tests in the wake of the chemical releases.

The demands and other concerns were aired last week at a press conference. Members of Ohio Citizen Action of Toledo, a public health and environment watchdog group, helped organize the event.

While Brush Wellman officials say the release, caused by an exothermic reaction among copper machining chips that contained traces of beryllium, did not put nearby residents at risk, seven homes were evacuated during the incident and roads leading to the plant were closed for about five hours.

And fears of the horrors of berylliosis justifiably make the neighbors concerned and cautious.

They are understandably not as confident as Brush officials are about the lack of danger.

The testing could ease those concerns and demonstrate to the neighbors and the public as a whole that Brush Wellman is really interested in being a good citizens and really concerned about the well-being of its workers and nearby residents.