Monday, June 19, 2000

Fernald report will get hearing

Forum to discuss possible hazards

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Government officials will visit the Tristate Thursday for a public hearing on a new report that summarizes possible health hazards stemming from the former Fernald uranium processing plant.

        Area activists are hailing the draft of the public health assessment, released in May by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), as pinpointing residents' concerns.

        “It pretty much confirms what we said all along, that past contamination caused a problem out here,” said Lisa Crawford, president of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health.

        The plant 17 miles northwest of Cincinnati, which was shut down in 1988, has been undergoing cleanup since 1991. However, questions have persisted about former workers' and residents' exposure to health risks.

        Possible chemical and radioactive dangers — both past and present — in private well water need in-depth study, ATSDR's assessment said.

        Edwa Yocum, a member of a Fernald health effects subcommittee, welcomes this recommendation because not all neighborhood wells have been replaced with public water and because attention to the possible effect of chemicals has taken a back seat to radioactive concerns.

        ATSDR's report also sets these goals for its education division:

        „Continue to develop training programs for health care providers.

        „Work with the health effects subcommittee to develop community education programs.

        The irony of the second suggestion is that government officials — including those from ATSDR — are threatening to disband that subcommittee. The group, composed of 14 residents, public health officials and doctors, needs more time to finish its work, Fernald residents say.

        The 4-year-old subcommittee serves partly to educate and partly to ensure that government studies “answer our health concerns, not a scientist's health concerns,” Ms. Yocum said.

        While pleased with ATSDR's draft report, residents are concerned about follow-through.

        “Yes, these are things that need to be looked into, but who's going to do it?” Ms. Yocum said.


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