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Published: Monday, 7/14/2003

U.S. plans beryllium sampling in Elmore

ELMORE - A federal health agency seeking data on the level of beryllium dust in homes near the Brush Wellman plant and in vehicles of employees plans to collect samples in the area later this year.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will meet with residents from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the Elmore Community Center, 410 Clinton St., to outline how the samples will be collected.

Two years ago, the agency cited the need for further investigation after tests concluded that no beryllium levels posing a health hazard were in recent water or air samplings near the plant.

But the agency said it could not fully evaluate possible environmental pathways for beryllium exposure away from the plant because of what it called “data gaps” in a study by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and by the company.

Beryllium is a strong, lightweight metal used in the defense, automotive, and electronics industries. Beryllium dust can cause chronic and sometimes fatal lung disease for those who inhale it. More than 1,200 people nationwide, including former and current Brush Wellman employees, have contracted beryllium disease since the 1940s.

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 is emerging in a variety of industries, including machining, recycling, and the dental businesses.

Peter Kowalski, an environmental health specialist at the agency's Atlanta headquarters, said in a telephone interview Friday the new study will be focused on the level of exposure that may be caused by beryllium dust that left the plant on workers' clothing, and on dust from past emissions.

Tonight's meeting will discuss the exposure investigation and outline the method of collecting random samples. To help interpret the data, a separate sampling will be conducted in 25 homes in a community about 50 miles upwind, Mr. Kowalski said.

The sampling in Elmore, a village of 1,426 people about 18 miles southeast of Toledo, could begin later this year, once a public comment period is completed Aug. 15. Consent of homeowners will be required for voluntary participation.

Crews of two to three people will visit homes, spending about two hours interviewing the residents and taking samples to test for beryllium dust. The project is expected to take several weeks, Mr. Kowalski said.

“We can collect samples in every home because of the logistics,” Mr. Kowalski said, adding that the agency wants to sample most homes adjacent to the plant.

Loretta Bush, health communications specialist for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said the cost of the project has not been determined. The cost will depend on the number of surveyors needed and the number of volunteers for the sampling.

“We really can't put a number on the cost yet,” she said.

Reports to homeowners with individual results and to the community at large won't go out until three to six months after the sampling is completed.

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