Speak Out About Your Air and Environment

The Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) held an open house on the proposed Materion Ceramics, Inc. revised air quality operating permit on Thursday, Jan. 22, at Sunnyside High School. PDEQ held this meeting to get public comment on this proposal.

The Materion plant, the nation's largest manufacturer of beryllium oxide products, is at 6100 S. Tucson Blvd., north of Valencia Road, in a residential neighborhood with numerous nearby schools. Materion, formerly known as Brush Ceramics and Brush Wellman, opened its ceramics manufacturing plant in Tucson in 1980. Since then, at least 35 of their Tucson employees have developed Chronic Beryllium Disease, and at least 5 have died. People had fears and concerns that the risk posed by the Brush Wellman plant isn't limited to its employees.

From the Arizona Daily Star article published January 18, 2015:

"In 2001, Brush Wellman agreed to pay a $145,000 fine for violating county air quality rules after an earlier inspection revealed a clothes dryer was illegally venting air to the outside. The drier laundered worker uniforms tainted with toxic beryllium dust.

"Back in 2006, Brush Ceramics and PDEQ signed an agreement calling on the company to pay to operate the monitors. The agreement was signed around the same time the county approved an earlier air-quality-permit revision. The agreement has already run out, however, meaning that the county would have to find another money source to keep operating the outside monitors if it doesn't approve the permit revision as proposed.

"In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had paid $1.4 million to compensate or care for victims of that disease who worked at the site."

I wrote the following letter to Ursula Nelson, Director – Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) on this issue, which read:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

Pima County and more specifically, Tucson's south side has had to deal with a serious of situations where actions taken have jeopardized the health of its residents. From the Brownfields matter, the TCE contamination, Tucson's Pioneer Paint, the toxic materials in the ground at the Park Avenue—Euclid area and the 1.4 dioxane contamination are some examples of ongoing issues which have continued monitoring by government and participation and involvement from citizen's alike.

Another has been the ceramics plant, Materion, formerly known as Brush Ceramics and Brush Wellman, which is located 6100 S. Tucson Blvd., north of Valencia Road, in a residential neighborhood with numerous nearby schools in the area.

This plant has been in existence since 1980 and has had a history of worker health problems with 35 deaths and numerous air quality violations, for which the company had paid $145,000 in fines to Pima County and $1.4 million to the U.S. Justice Department to compensate or care for victims of that disease who worked at the site.

Presently, there are a series of independent monitoring systems to detect potential harmful emissions from the plant. Several of the monitoring sites are located at five schools and one school district building in the Sunnyside School District.

There is the proposal that you are considering: to shut down the independent sites and have the company run a system on the grounds of the firm and to monitor their own system.

The other health situations referenced earlier in this letter were not discovered solely on the site of the businesses involved. These situations have gone on for more than two decades because the problems have not been fully resolved.

Oversight continues by various governmental departments, such as PDEQ and citizens, such as the United Community Advisory Board for example, to ensure that the work needed for these problems continues and that one day these situations are finally resolved.

How does the Materion situation differ then? It doesn't. A problem still exists and for which the company has had a monitoring system on its grounds in addition to the independent monitors. There had been detections off site from the plant itself and the company was forced to comply with county health regulations and federal worker compensation rules, paying fines from transgressions they made.

PDEQ has previously ruled that an outside measure, such as the independent monitoring devices,, were needed and that the county needed to conduct the study.

Your website states that PDEQ monitors for six criteria pollutants in the Tucson and Green Valley area in accordance to the regulations established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The ultimate goal of the PDEQ, your web page states, is an air quality control program is to reduce the concentration of harmful air contaminants in ambient air to safe and healthy levels, and maintain those levels. A key process in controlling air pollution is to define the nature and extent of air quality problems through monitoring.

How then is the Materion situation different then? It isn't. The other monitoring conducted by your department is funded by the county, state and/or federal government and citing financial issues is not a relevant point to make in terms of the health and well being of the population.

If there is funding to purchase land for soccer fields or to build an auto racing track, there is funding to continue the study and independent monitoring.

The south side has endured so much: families losing loved ones and lands contaminated. This problem has not been resolved and the County study must continue and a form of independent monitoring must be in place. Beryllium is no different that the 1.4 dioxane, Pioneer Paint, TCE, or the Park-Euclid plume. The work must continue.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Richard G. Fimbres, Vice Mayor – City of Tucson (Ward 5)

Pima Department of Environmental Quality Director Ursula Nelson will decide whether to approve the permit. If she does, the monitoring study the county has run for more than seven years for the site will be finalized, and the monitors will be shut down.

It is important that Ward 5 residents, as well as across our city and area, weigh in on this issue by speaking out for our environment and community. People can give public comment online at: http://1.usa.gov/1ytcFsQ or comment and send the Email to Ursula Nelson, at Ursula.nelson@pima.gov or mail in their comments to Ursula Nelson, PDEQ, 33 North Stone, Tucson, Arizona, 85701.

Richard Fimbres is Vice Mayor and City of Tucson City Councilman representing Ward 5.

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