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Brush Wellman Facility - Elmore, OH

    Map of Ohio with Elmore marked
    The Brush Wellman plant in Elmore, Ohio is the principal producer of beryllium, beryllium alloy, and beryllium oxide in the United States.

    The facility is located in Ottawa County, a semi-rural area of Northern Ohio, between the villages of Elmore and Oak Harbor.


    About Beryllium

    Beryllium is a hard, grayish metal naturally found in mineral rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust. The general population is exposed to normally low levels of beryllium in air, food, and water. Some people can have greater exposure to beryllium at work in industries where beryllium is mined, processed, machined, or converted into metal, alloys, and other chemicals. People living near these industries and household contacts of exposed workers may also be exposed to higher than normal levels of beryllium in air.

    Exposure to airborne beryllium dust can cause some individuals to become sensitized. Repeated low-level beryllium exposure among sensitized individuals may result in chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a progressive, granulomatous lung disease that may be mistaken for sarcoidosis. Symptoms of CBD include dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain. CBD may progress to become debilitating and fatal. The risk of CBD is confined to inhalation of airborne beryllium dust; it does not result from beryllium in soil or dust on the ground or surfaces.

    Additional information from ATSDR about beryllium is available in our Beryllium ATSDR ToxFAQs, Beryllium Public Health Statement, and Toxicological Profile for Beryllium

    2002 Health Consultation

    In 2001, responding to interest from Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental advocacy group, former Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) petitioned ATSDR to determine whether beryllium air emissions from the Brush Wellman plant and the possible off-site transport of beryllium dust on workers’ clothing presented a health hazard to the community of Elmore.

    ATSDR staff conducted a site-visit in June, 2001. During that time ATSDR representatives met with representatives of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), Ohio Citizen Action, and Brush Wellman. ATSDR also conducted an open house to gather community concerns about beryllium exposure. Individuals from the community also contacted ATSDR by telephone and through written correspondence.

    ATSDR staff reviewed available environmental data and correspondence. The OEPA provided well water sampling information, incident reports, and correspondence with Brush Wellman. The Ohio Citizen Action provided the results of their beryllium wipe sampling. Brush Wellman provided air monitoring results and copies of policies and procedures.

    In July 2002, ATSDR published its health consultation concluding … beryllium emissions from the Brush Wellman-Elmore Plant, measured as 30-day averages over years of exposure, are below levels expected to cause adverse health effects and do not pose a public health hazard. Short-term beryllium release episodes and past violations of the USEPA standard in 1980, 1989, and 1990 present an indeterminate public health hazard to residents immediately north and northeast of the Brush Wellman-Elmore facility.

    ATSDR recommended follow-up environmental sampling studies to help guide additional health actions. ATSDR also noted that a few community members had requested medical testing for sensitization to beryllium using the Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (Be-LPT). The 2002 health consultation stated that the potential for exposure needed to be better characterized before recommending such testing. The consultation was revised slightly in 2006 to correct minor technical errors in the original document; the revision did not alter the findings or conclusions made in the original document.

    The 2002 Health Consultation [PDF, 444 KB] is available on the ATSDR web site.

    Public Health Follow-up (2003 through 2006)

    ATSDR considered how best to establish if past releases of beryllium had created a public health hazard in Elmore, Ohio. During this time period, Senator DeWine continued to support ATSDR’s work. At the same time, Brush Wellman representatives strongly opposed ATSDR’s continued efforts. Company officials asserted that ATSDR’s continued involvement went beyond the intent of Senator DeWine’s petition, that local residents were unconcerned, and that there was no evidence of a health problem. Ottawa County Commissioners supported the company’s position. The commissioners also requested that ATSDR maintain regular contact with them.

    Environmental Sampling

    Between 2003 – 2005, ATSDR considered environmental sampling and released for public comment a proposal to conduct environmental monitoring for soil, dust, and air in a limited number of local homes. Because CBD is caused by inhalation of airborne beryllium dust, and there are no health-based guidelines for assessing risk of CBD from surface samples, this type of sampling was dropped from the plan. A revised protocol was developed for environmental sampling in indoor air. External peer reviewers of the protocol supported environmental sampling, however, they pointed out that without aggressive sampling, such as beating rugs and upholstery to suspend dust into the air, detectable levels of beryllium in indoor air samples would be unlikely. ATSDR did not support this recommendation because aggressive sampling would not reflect real-life exposure. In addition, ATSDR had ethical concerns about unnecessarily exposing people living in their homes to airborne beryllium dust generated by this type of sampling. The environmental sampling plan had additional limitations. It did not replicate the EPA 30-day-average standard that was proposed for comparison purposes. It also reflected current levels of beryllium in environmental media rather than possible levels that may have existed in the past.

    In 2005, ATSDR decided to defer plans for environmental sampling until after results from medical testing became available. ATSDR concluded that sampling the environment (dust, soil, and/or indoor air) would provide inadequate information about the consequences of past plant emissions. Environmental sampling of indoor air was considered insensitive and could result in not identifying a public health hazard when an actual hazard may have existed. In addition, environmental sampling could not provide direct information on the outcome of greatest public health importance: the health of people in the community.

    The 2004 – Exposure Investigation Protocol for Peer Review [PDF, 306 KB] and the peer reviewer comments [PDF, 137 KB] are available on the ATSDR web site.

    Medical Testing

    Having concluded that environmental sampling would not provide accurate information about the health of people in the community, ATSDR again considered the use of medical testing to establish whether past beryllium releases had adversely affected public health. ATSDR had previously established that a few community members were interested in medical testing.

    Three groups of individuals, other than Brush Wellman employees, were most likely to have been exposed to beryllium releases: people living within 1.25 miles of the facility, household contacts of Brush Wellman workers, and workers at local machine shops that worked on beryllium-containing metals from the plant. Since sarcoidosis may be confused with CBD, ATSDR also considered offering testing to people diagnosed with that disease.

    Beryllium sensitization is the most sensitive indicator of a health effect from past beryllium exposure. The Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test (Be-LPT) is the best available test routinely used to establish this condition. The Be-LPT offered advantages over environmental sampling in that it provides a direct measure of an adverse human effect from past exposure to beryllium and it could be offered to far more people than environmental sampling. The Be-LPT findings could be used to determine if additional environmental sampling would be conducted and if so, where to conduct it.

    On March 24 2006, ATSDR representatives met with Senator DeWine’s staff to provide an update on plans to follow-up on the 2002 health consultation by offering medical testing. Senator DeWine’s staff invited representatives of Brush Wellman and the County Commissioners to attend. ATSDR reiterated the need for follow-up activities in Elmore despite objections from Brush Wellman. Ottawa County Commissioners and company representatives continued to object, stating that follow-up was not required, the community was not interested, and ATSDR’s plan was beyond the scope of the Senator’s petition.

    On March 27, 2006, ATSDR released a media announcement about its plans to offer medical testing to up to 200 Elmore residents who had not been employees of Brush Wellman. Brush Wellman employees were already receiving this test.

    On March, 31, 2006 ATSDR released its draft plan for medical testing in Elmore, Ohio. ATSDR used a combination of media and community outreach activities to advise how interested people could contact the agency and where people could find the draft plan for testing. ATSDR received public comments from two Brush Wellman representatives dated April 6 and April 28, 2006. ATSDR also received comments from the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners on April 25, 2006. The final public comment received on April 28, 2006 was from a consultant hired by the county commissioners.

    ATSDR held an expert panel meeting in Ottawa County on April 25, 2006. The panel included seven experts familiar with the medical test to be used. The panel advised ATSDR on how best to use the test to confirm beryllium sensitization and what results should lead to additional public health activities. A summary report of the expert panel [PDF, 464 KB] and a related technical publication [PDF, 288 KB] describing the use of the beryllium sensitization test are available on the ATSDR web site.

    ATSDR held a community interest meeting in Elmore, Ohio on April 25, 2006. During this meeting ATSDR subject matter experts were available to meet with the interested public in small groups. Individuals who wished to participate in the future testing could sign-up at the session. ATSDR also reached out to the community to inform individuals of the availability of testing by mailing flyers and a fact sheet to all residences within 1.25 miles of the facility, placing paid advertisements in three local newspapers, contacting local machine shops, and contacting local physicians.

    ATSDR responded to public comments on June 12, 2006. ATSDR released the final plan for medical testing of up to 200 individuals on June 16, 2006. Slight modifications between the draft and final plans were made on the basis of the recommendations from the panel of experts and public comments. In addition, the final plan included mortality statistics for CBD received from the state of Ohio and information on community interest.

    ATSDR conducted the medical testing in July, 2006. Although ATSDR offered to test up to 200 people and widely disseminated information about the testing, only 20 people volunteered. All results were negative. ATSDR issued its final report November 15, 2006. ATSDR did not recommend additional community-based testing at that time. The agency noted that the negative results from one individual, an individual with sarcoidosis taking prednisone, should be interpreted cautiously because steroid therapy could interfere with the accuracy of the medical test. ATSDR noted that other people in the community, who were eligible but chose not to be tested, may have been sensitized and recommended that the Ottawa County Health Department provide additional information on beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease to local physicians.

    The following documents related to the medical testing in Elmore, Ohio are available on our web site from the links listed below: March 27 media announcement, Public Availability Session Announcement [PDF, 398 KB], the March 31, 2006 draft medical testing plan [PDF, 919 KB], public comments received related to the draft plan, ATSDR responses to the public comments, the summary of the April 25, 2006 expert panel meeting [PDF, 464 KB], the final medical testing plan [PDF, 184 KB], the final report on the medical testing [PDF, 60 KB], and the Medical Testing Results Fact Sheet [PDF, 239 KB]) 

Last Updated: April 29, 2008
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