Saturday, September 22, 2001

PCBs worry residents

State finds unacceptable levels in Harlan County

The Associated Press

        DAYHOIT, Ky. — The Kentucky Division of Waste Management has found unacceptable levels of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in soil at a Harlan County mobile home park.

        The finding prompted an outcry this week from residents who said they had been told their property was safe.

        “It scares me, because my grandchildren stayed here all summer and they've played in the dirt and swam in the pool,” said Nora Lee Stewart, a resident of the Holiday Mobile Home Park. “All of the children from different trailers have come down here to play because I didn't know anything was wrong.”

        Federal and state environmental regulators ordered Texas-based Cooper Industries to clean up ground water beneath the Dayhoit factory in 1989 when PCBs and other toxic chemicals were found in drinking water at the nearby mobile home park.

        In 1994, the state tested for PCBs in the soil around the mobile homes. Matt Hackathorn, spokesman for the Division of Waste Management, said PCBs were detected but not at levels that raised health concerns.

        Mr. Hackathorn said state inspectors surveyed the site again in April and made an about-face, saying the levels of PCBs were sufficient to cause health concerns.

        Cooper Industries spokesman John Breed told the Harlan Daily Enterprise that the company disagrees with the state's findings. He said the company shouldn't be required to take any further action.

        “Cooper Industries could have dealt with this years ago,” said Joan Robinett, a community organizer who formerly lived in the trailer park. “They knew the PCBs were there. They could have done whatever was necessary to protect the people and they have yet to do that.”

        PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1977.

        Residents have filed two lawsuits against Cooper Industries. One was settled out of court in 1996 for an undisclosed amount. The other, filed in 1997, asks for $500 million and still is pending.


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