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Permit upheld for toxic chemical user Brush Ceramic

A Pima County appeals board has upheld an air quality permit awarded this year to Brush Ceramic, which has long worried South Side residents with its use of the hazardous material beryllium.

Even though risks to the public haven’t been detected, the county will conduct air-quality monitoring to measure beryllium coming from the plant at 6100 S. Tucson Blvd., county officials said.

The Pima County Air Quality Hearing Board voted 5-0 Thursday to uphold the permit awarded by the county’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The board rejected a request from environmental activists to make air-quality monitoring part of the permit’s requirements.

Only by making the testing part of the permit could the county take action if it finds high levels of beryllium, activists argued.

A lack of legal standards about beryllium in outdoor air led the county to keep the testing out of its permit requirements, said Richard Grimaldi of the county Department of Environmental Quality. Data collected from the testing may lead to stronger permit requirements when the current one expires in five years, he said.

Soil testing around the plant in 1999 by the county found no public heath risk. Eric Betterton, a University of Arizona professor who studies air pollution, said he reviewed the study and found it showed no need for additional air testing.

When inhaled, beryllium dust can case a reaction that scars lung tissue and suffocates victims.

More than 30 former Brush employees who worked at the plant in the 1980s have contracted chronic beryllium disease, state health officials have said. The company says many improvements have since been made and no threat exists for the the public.

Two Tucson environmental groups appealed the permit. But the hearing board declined to hear an appeal from the Center for Environmental Connections because it wasn’t represented by an attorney, as required by its rules.

The board agreed to hear the appeal from the Environmental Justice Action Group, finding its appeal was more like one filed by residents, who aren’t required to have legal representation in an appeal.

But the board would consider only one part of the group’s appeal, about air-quality monitoring, because the other parts were too general, board members decided.

“It’s criminal not to be discussing these issues,” Pat Birnie of the Environmental Justice Action Group told the board.

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