Safety a top priority for GAO

Defects at Fernald concern lawmakers


BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Structural defects that have the potential to harm workers at a pilot plant under construction at Fernald should be among the first areas members of the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) investigate, U.S. Rep. Rob Portman said Sunday.

A report about cracks in the building's concrete foundation and weak steel structures, published in The Enquirer Sunday,confirmed ''the anecdotal evidence'' Mr. Portman, R-Cincinnati, said he has received regarding the pilot plant.

The plant is the test model for the full-scale plant that will be built to clean up 20 million pounds of radioactive wastes in two underground silos at Fernald.

''To me, this is one of the urgent items for the GAO to look into as their investigation starts in the next couple of weeks,'' he said. ''They agreed to look first at safety problems.''

Mr. Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, and Ohio's two U.S. senators, Democrat John Glenn and Republican Mike DeWine, last month called for the GAO to investigate reports of financial wrongdoing by the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO), and its parent company, Fluor Daniel Corp., of Irvine, Calif.

The company was awarded a $2.2 billion contract to manage the cleanup at the former uranium processing plant at Fernald, 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

In Sunday's Enquirer report, a senior FERMCO official connected to the project said the danger to current and future workers is so great that the pilot plant is a ''deathtrap awaiting its first victim.''

''These revelations further illustrate why it is so important a thorough investigation be done to ensure that the cleanup at Fernald is performed properly and tax dollars are not wasted,'' Mr. Chabot said.

Because the vitrification plant is not going into operation in the next couple of months, Mr. Portman said the GAO report should be timely.

Mr. DeWine had no comment Sunday and Mr. Glenn could not be reached for comment.

Published March 4, 1996.