Fluoride Action Network

Beryllium producer rejects meeting with activists

Source: Toledo Blade | BLADE SENIOR WRITER
Posted on June 25th, 1999
Location: United States, Ohio

The Brush Wellman beryllium company says it will not meet with environmental activists who want to discuss why workers at the firm’s plant outside Elmore continue to contract an often-fatal lung disease.

Brush Wellman has told Ohio Citizen Action, the state’s largest environmental activist group, that there was no reason to meet and, furthermore, the company found the activists self-serving and untrustworthy.

“We have no reason to think that you have changed your tactics of attacking a situation, spreading disinformation, and then moving on to another topic where you can generate more publicity,” Hugh Hanes, Brush’s vice president for government affairs, wrote to the group this week.

Ohio Citizen Action’s Sarah Ogdahl responded: “We’re infuriated. This proves they are not willing to work with the community.”

Earlier this month, Ohio Citizen Action and two local groups – the Coalition for a Safe Environment and the Coalition for Safe Energy – requested a meeting with Brush to discuss health concerns at the Elmore plant. At least 53 current or former workers at the plant have contracted beryllium disease from inhaling the metal’s toxic dust.

The environmentalists called for Brush to reduce beryllium dust inside and outside the plant, increase air monitoring in the neighborhood, and offer local residents free blood tests to determine if they have been harmed.

But Brush said in its letter that it had already taken many steps to improve worker safety and pollution control, including programs implemented two weeks ago.

The company added that for years, it has met with workers, neighbors, and beryllium disease victims to discuss health issues. “Those meetings will continue to occur frequently and regularly,” the letter said. “That is where we need to devote our attention and efforts.”

Furthermore, Brush questioned Ohio Citizen Action’s tactics and sincerity. The company stated that in 1995, the environmental group accused Brush of being a top polluter of Lake Erie when in fact “99 per cent of our releases were fluoride.”

Brush has long argued that its fluoride releases are minute and not a threat to the environment. Ohio Citizen Action disagrees.

Yesterday, Brush’s Mr. Hanes declined to comment on Ohio Citizen Action’s concerns and its request for a meeting. “I think our letter speaks for itself,” he said.

Brush is America’s leading beryllium producer, with headquarters in Cleveland and facilities in several states. Its Elmore plant, 20 miles southeast of Toledo, has about 650 employees.

Terry Lodge, head of the Coalition for Safe Energy, one of the groups seeking a meeting with Brush, said the beryllium company’s response “represents the arrogant face they have been turning to the world for several decades.”

“It suggests to me their commitment to change any of their practices is probably very superficial,” said Mr. Lodge, a Toledo lawyer.

Ms. Ogdahl, program director for Ohio Citizen Action’s Toledo office, said she was surprised by Brush’s letter.

“We’re making attempts to do this in a very diplomatic way, sitting down and talking about the problems. That’s all we want. We want some of their time to discuss these issues and a pledge from them to try to improve their facilities.

“And what we get in return is a very nasty letter, very hostile, and with no intent to meet with us.”

Ms. Ogdahl said the environmental groups will write another letter to Brush to request a meeting. If that fails, she said, other action may be taken.

_Hlk454877435Ohio Citizen Action is a nonprofit group with offices in five cities and 150,000 members statewide. It has been focusing on Brush since a recent series in The Blade about beryllium, a material critical to the production of nuclear bombs and other weapons.

The series showed how the U.S. government and the beryllium industry knowingly allowed thousands of workers to be exposed to unsafe levels of beryllium dust. Many of these workers contracted beryllium disease, and some died.

In addition, the articles detailed how Brush downplayed hazards, concealed documents, and systematically tried to control the public’s knowledge of beryllium.

The series has sparked several actions, including an investigation by the General Accounting Office, Congress’s investigative arm.