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Thursday, June 28, 2001

Residents near Brush Wellman plant tell feds they want independent testing


Staff writer


ELMORE -- Lauretta Peters first noticed a chronic cough about three years ago.

She lived on an egg farm near Brush Wellman for 25 years with her husband, Wilbur, and while she said tests show low amounts of beryllium in her system, she said she believes pollution from the plant is the culprit.

She and about 50 others gathered Wednesday night at the Elmore Community Center to tell their concerns to a federal agency compiling a report on possible pollution from the Brush Wellman plant, 14710 W. Portage River South Road.

The center was filled with people, some who were plant workers and now have to take oxygen with them wherever they go.

Still some defend the plant, and say what is inside stays there, and local residents aren't being exposed.

Peters, whose husband died two years ago from heart failure, said something was found on her husband's lungs, but the substance could not be identified.

"We felt safe, they (Brush Wellman personnel) were monitoring; they were taking care of us," she said, adding there were two air filters near their property.

But increasing health problems identified by persons attending the session and a growing awareness about berylliosis -- a sometimes fatal disease caused by beryllium dust -- made Peters suspicious of the company's claims that the plant is safe.

Peters now lives in Florida, but made the return trip up to visit relatives and talk to Brush Wellman officials about her concerns.

Local residents Wednesday told representatives from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry their concerns about the plant, which mainly focused on air and water quality.

Some believed the water to be contaminated, but others wanted air testing.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has split the testing of eight residential wells around the plant with Brush officials, said OEPA spokesman Mike Czeczele.

Pete Willett's well was tested by Brush Wellman, and the results came back negative for beryllium contamination. OEPA tests have not come back yet, Czeczele said.

Willett, who lives caddy corner to the plant across about 80 acres of field and woods, said he's more concerned about the air quality.

"I'd like to talk to one of their technical people and give them insight into the plant," Willett said of the ATSDR representatives. "They don't know what's going on there."

Willett worked at the plant for six years, and while he doesn't suffer from berylliosis, he does have ulcers in his hands and feet caused by beryllium fluoride seeping into cuts.

Susan Goon lives on West Smith Road, and knows many people who work in the plant, as well as some who have berylliosis disease, including her neighbor, Gary Renwand.

"We're kind of concerned, you see him suffering like he is, you wonder if the neighbors could contract this," she said after meeting with one of the five ATSDR officials.

Neighbors in the area are willing to talk to anyone to start the catalyst for independent testing in the water and air around the plant, Goon said.

"I'm sure most of the neighbors are kind of skeptical of that (the ATSDR), but I think they're all willing to give them a chance," she said. "No one wants to step on anyone's toes around here, we're just concerned about it being safe."

The Ohio Citizen Action group can take some responsibility for getting the fact-finding group ATSDR into Elmore to talk to residents.

Cleveland Area Program Director Amy Ryder met with Mike DeWine in February to tell him of samples taken from Brush Wellman workers as well as nonworkers.

What the samples showed were beryllium contamination in the cars and homes of workers, and none in the cars and homes of nonworkers.

"It tells us the workers are bringing it home with them," she said.

DeWine contacted the Center for Disease Control, and CDC officials responded by contacting ATSDR to come in and do a health consultation, or a report on the health concerns.

"We don't see how they can make a fair assessment of the health problems in this community without sampling," Ryder said.

The Ohio Citizen Action group is calling for independent air testing of the neighborhoods surrounding the plant, which the ATSDR could recommend in its report if it deems testing necessary.

The OEPA likely won't wait for the federal agency's report, slated to be released in late summer or early fall, Czeczele said.

Instead, the OEPA has determined at least three locations to do air monitoring with the department's own equipment and personnel, and the samples will be sent to an independent facility for testing.

Previous monitoring has been done by Brush Wellman, and the OEPA has used the company's results.

That is the step many, including Elmore resident Diane Kashmer, wanted to see taken.

"They need a lot more research, not necessarily done by Brush," she said Wednesday. "There's lots of concern, lots of people involved."