Health vs. jobs in Elmore

ELMORE Ottawa County officials are defending a local company after CBS News alleged Thursday the Bush administration scaled b
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

ELMORE

Ottawa County officials are defending a local company after CBS News alleged Thursday the Bush administration scaled back a health study of one of the county's largest employers after getting pressure from Ohio's formergovernor.

Elmore's Brush Wellman operates the world's largest manufacturing plant for beryllium, a metal used to make parts found in nuclear weapons, golf clubs and computer chips.

From 2001 to 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated community concerns that the beryllium was a health threat.

During the manufacturing process, beryllium produces a toxic dust. Exposure can cause an incurable lung disease and cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

In the CBS report that aired Thursday, the news agency alleges that in the spring 2006, Brush Wellman threatened to withdraw plans for a multi-million dollar plant because of the CDC research.

The company president complained to then Gov. Bob Taft. The CBS report says Taft sent a handwritten note to Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, that the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry's actions was "causing a deterrent" to choosing the Ohio plant for an expansion.

Taft's complaint was passed down the chain of command, and the Registry later announced a "fresh look" at the scientific issues and scaled back its study. Congress is investigating, CBS says.

In September 2006, Brush Wellman announced that Elmore would be the new site for the $90 million Pebble Plant that is expected to produce 25 jobs.

"The CBS News story really distorted a number of facts," Brush Wellman spokesman Patrick Carpenter said. "They suggested that politicians and business community strong-armed (the Registry) to scale back."

Carpenter said officials at the Registry planned up to 200 blood tests, although only 18 people participated.

"Every one of the tests came back normal," he said.

Ottawa County commissioner Steve Arndt, who lives in Elmore, said he was very involved in the Registry project from the beginning.

"My concern is the general public needs to know that they are not at (risk)," Arndt said.

Although Brush Wellman is a major employer in Elmore and the surrounding county, Ottawa County commissioner Jim Sass said local officials would not use that as an excuse to overlook the public's health.

"We'd never put the employees, residents or community's health above a job," Sass said. "They're bending over backwards to take safeguards that their employees aren't exposed to any unnecessary risks."

Elmore councilman Bob Eickel said he trusts that Brush Wellman has the village's best interests in mind.

"I'm not worried about Brush Wellman," Eickel said. "I don't worry about Davis-Besse, either. To me they're both good neighbors, as far as I can tell."

Carpenter said the beryllium company plans to move forward on the plant expansion.

"We plan to break ground on July 14 as scheduled," he said.