Sunday, May 16, 1999

Old defense sites used by schools may hold wastes

EPA, Army Corps will investigate

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers will investigate whether 11 more former military sites turned over to schools have chemical contamination.

        The issue came up after contamination was found at a site in Marion County.

        “We did an initial survey to find out if we had other schools on or near formerly used defense sites,” EPA spokeswoman Beth Gianforcaro said Friday. “Now we are taking it to the next step.”

        Graham Mitchell, chief of the agency's Office of Federal Facilities Oversight, did not say how closely the properties will be scrutinized or how long it will take.

        “That's what we are starting to do right now — we're talking about the process,” he said.

        Two other sites are in Clinton County. One is the former Clinton County Air Force Base, 1,656 acres, now owned by Airborne Express and Southern State Community College. The other is the Nike Missile Site, about 40 acres, now owned by the Clinton County Board of Mental Retardation and Disabilities and a private owner.

        The corps has reviewed all of the former defense sites in recent years, but in most cases that review involved looking at the Army's file on the property.

        “As we have found in Marion, sometimes that file is not as complete as we would hope it would be,” Mr. Mitchell said.

        An investigation may not turn up any contamination, said Bonnie Buthker, the EPA liaison with the Defense Department.

        “All we know at this point is that these are schools located on formerly used defense sites,” she said.

        Officials already are investigating three sites.

        In Lordstown last summer, the corps removed contaminated soil from a former ammunition dump that the Trumbull County Board of Education is using as an outdoor environmental education center.

        Mr. Mitchell said there are no indications of problems at the two other sites: the former Bellefontaine Air Force Station, which the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center is using; and the former Rossford Army Depot, which is now a community college and vocational school.

        The decision to evaluate the sites comes almost two years after the EPA and Army Corps began investigating environmental contamination on the grounds at the River Valley high and middle schools in Marion, about 40 miles north of Columbus.

        The schools were built on the former site of a World War II-era Army depot where solvents and other hazardous chemicals were dumped. A higher than normal number of leukemia cases have been reported, but officials have not linked the problem to the site.

        State and federal officials are cleaning up hazards as tests continue.


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- Old defense sites used by schools may hold wastes