REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Environment and economy in Elmore

The report by CBS News that Gov. Bob Taft and the Bush Administration interceded to scale back a health study of the area surroundin
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

The report by CBS News that Gov. Bob Taft and the Bush Administration interceded to scale back a health study of the area surrounding the Brush Wellman plant in Elmore is disturbing, to say the least.

It may be, as Ottawa County Commissioner Steve Arndt told us in response to the CBS report, that people around the plant are at no health risk. We hope he's right.

But that's not the point. Without the Centers for Disease Control investigation, will we know?

The scaled-back tests that were performed came back negative: No one showed any ill effects from living near the plant.

It's not as though this concern appeared out of thin air. Brush Wellman, which manufactures and machines components from the metal beryllium, recently was embroiled in disputes with former workers -- or their survivors -- from illnesses they claim to have contracted form working with the toxic dust produced when beryllium is machined.

Meanwhile, Brush Wellman plans to break ground July 14 on a $90 million plant, bringing with it 25 jobs.

CBS claimed the company threatened to scrap the plans because of the tests. It complained to Taft, who passed the complaint on to the federal level -- and then came a "fresh look" at the science, and a scaled-back study.

Ottawa County Commissioner Jim Sass said local officials would not use economic promise as an excuse to overlook public health concerns. Hopefully, a decision to do so was not made far above local officials' heads.

It may very well be Brush Wellman has learned the need to account for the health of its workers and neighbors, and runs a safer operation than the one that allegedly made some of its people very ill, some fatally so.

But the rest of us -- the neighbors -- need to have confidence that is so.

We can only hope a change in administration in Columbus brings fresh air, literally and figuratively. Lee Fisher, who as attorney general built a reputation of getting businesses to fix their environmental problems without immediately resorting to punishment, is now Ted Strickland's lieutenant governor, and therefore head of the state's development department.

We hope the sense of balance, between economic development and environmental health, remains part of Fisher's philosophy -- and such political pressure as CBS alleges fades into fiction.