Friday, March 24, 2000

Fernald group resists disbanding

Health watchers say work remains

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An attempt by federal officials to disband a Fernald neighborhood health effects subcommittee raised a furor this week around the former uranium processing facility.

        The group was given until September to justify its continued existence after the majority of the subcommittee objected to their disbandment and 12 residents spoke out during a public meeting Wednesday.

        The 14 members of the subcommittee, made up of res idents, public health officials and two doctors, first learned about plans to disband their own group early last week, said member Edwa Yocum.

        “We are quite concerned because we feel there are quite a lot of health concerns that still need to be addressed,” said Ms. Yocum, who lives 11/2 miles from the Fernald site. “We need the support of the community to show our job isn't finished.”

        Mike Donnelly, the acting executive secretary to the subcommittee from the Center for Disease Control National Center for Environmental Health, would not comment on the complaints or comments.

        Ms. Yocum thinks federal officials want to reallocate the human and fiscal resources of the group to other cleanup sites throughout the nation. “We are now competing with other DOE (Department of Energy) sites for money to do public health studies,” she said.

        She said subcommittee members did not know how much the group's studies or administrative functions cost. “At first we didn't ask to see a budget ... now we are having trouble getting the figures,” she said.

        The subcommittee, one of four such groups in the nation, is part of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Public Health Service (PHS) Activities and Research at DOE Sites.

        Fernald is owned by DOE but managed by private contractors. It has been a cleanup project since production ended in 1989.

        The subcommittee was organized to provide a forum for community concerns and to offer advice and recommendations to Public Health Service agencies at Fernald.

        Primary audiences for those comments are the CDC and the administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

        “They kind of blindsided everybody,” said Lisa Crawford, president of FRESH (Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health).

        Mrs. Crawford said she and like-minded neighbors see Fernald's 50-year history as a puzzle, with important pieces missing.

        They want to know how much radiation was released and the health effects of that radiation.

        “We want to finish that puzzle so we can have a very clear picture,” she said.

        The subcommittee — with its access to health and exposure data — was to provide many of the missing pieces.

        If federal agencies pull out and shut down the subcommittee, Mrs. Crawford said, she and coworkers have two questions:

        Who controls the data and access to it, and, if further studies are needed to answer vital questions, who will do it?

        Mrs. Crawford said activists were equally piqued at what they perceived as the high-handed way federal officials brought them what appeared to be a done deal.

        “There is a public process that we all follow,” Mrs. Crawford said, and comment periods after the fact do not suffice.


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