Thursday, May 8, 2003

Danger lurks in Dick's Creek

AK Steel denies blame for PCB pollution

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Ray Agee's reflection is seen next to a warning sign submerged in the brackish water in the Excello Lock in Middletown, which is along Dick's Creek.
([name of photographer] photo)
| ZOOM |
MIDDLETOWN - A poison creek runs through it.

Dick's Creek, a tributary of the Great Miami River that winds through the heart of this Butler County community, has been off limits to the 55,000 townsfolk here since the mid-1990s because of pollution that could cause cancer to people who swim or wade in the creek or eat fish or drink from it.

One of the most polluted waterways in the state, the sediment at the bottom of Dick's Creek would be classified as hazardous waste if found in a landfill, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Signs posted around the creek warn people to steer clear. That's because of high levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which have been recorded at 2,000 to 3,000 times the limit considered safe by the federal Clean Water Act.

"About the only place that comes close to the PCBs in Dick's Creek is the Ottawa River in Toledo, where we had a landfill discharging contaminated oil directly into the river," said Bob Fry, chief of the Health Assessment section at the Ohio Department of Health. "The problem with these chemicals is that they don't readily break down in the environment. They can get spread around by a flood, or by someone wading in the creek."

The source of the PCBs in Dick's Creek is the subject of a federal lawsuit against AK Steel Corp., a Fortune 500 company that is the city's largest employer.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the original suit against AK Steel in 2000, asking the court to force the company to abide by environmental laws, clean up the creek and pay civil penalties. The Ohio EPA and two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the National Resource Defense Council, were later allowed to join the litigation.

The lawsuit is winding its way toward conclusion. Attorneys for all parties must complete the sharing of information about the case - a process known as discovery - by August. Arguments of law must then be completed by November, which is when some sort of settlement or trial is expected.

AK Steel maintains that it does not pollute the creek and that there are dozens of other plants, junkyards and sewer systems that could have allowed the hazardous chemicals into the stream. The company acknowledges that a small amount of PCBs entered the stream from its landfill in 1995, but that problem was quickly taken care of.

Company spokesman Alan McCoy said the steel maker spent $17 million on wastewater treatment at its Middletown plant alone last year, and the company forked over an additional $3 million on investigation and remediation of the Dick's Creek watershed.

"Assistant Attorney General Gary Cox said the contaminants persist in the creek's sediment and that there have been continuing violations since the lawsuit was filed.

Ray Agee doesn't need tests to know the creek he learned to swim in is ruined. Agee grew up in Middletown and now lives just yards from the AK Steel plant. He says children in the neighborhood continue to play and fish in the stream despite warnings. The creek runs directly behind Amanda Elementary School's playground.

"That creek was pristine when I was growing up," said Agee, 62. "I've gone back there and seen bicycle tracks, footprints and mud. I know kids are still getting in that water, and I'm afraid for them. It's a great loss."


For CPS students, teachers, levy first step to better digs
Black vote called key for issue win
Grocer removes barriers
Clovernook marks 100th year of opportunities for the blind
Fiorini indicted in fraud
Fletcher's campaign given green light by high court

Supreme Court delays Campbell's execution
Condon called fixture at morgue
Council halts student housing project
Four indicted in petition falsification
Norwood cinches up its belt
Man's death sentence overturned
Job applicant papers ruled not public record
Obituary: Rev. John Compton, 77, served Christian Church
Tristate A.M. Report

PULFER: YWCA luncheon
HOWARD: Some Good News

Danger lurks in Dick's Creek
King's rethinks as levy defeated
EPA to detail cleanup of lead in Liberty Township subdivision
Petition legality under question
Complaints delay housing decision
Council OKs outline for economic development
Victim's injuries reminder of crime
City's plan ruffles county's feathers
Police Advisory Committee created

Laci's family backs DeWine bill to protect fetuses
Fire in historic building ruled deliberate
How to decide who lives, dies?
New law lets Amish opt out of paying into workers' comp
Portman declines budget director post
Ohio Moments

Covington says thanks to Bill Cappel with new sports complex
Engineer joins Boone planners
Mother of all YMCAs coming to Boone Co.
Covington nuisance law used for first time
Pendery withdraws from 4th District campaign
WKU student dies of dorm fire injuries
Judge hears evidence in slaying of 13-year-old
Another union urges CBS to can 'Hillbillies'
Five inmates in court in attack on teen
Former NKU foundation head pleads guilty
Kentucky obituaries