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Schools to get toxin check


Schools to get toxin check

Fort Hayes on list of old Army sites

Saturday, May 15, 1999

By Randall Edwards
Dispatch Environment Reporter

The Ohio EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers will investigate 11 former military properties -- including Fort Hayes in Columbus -- to see if chemical contamination was left behind when each was turned over to local school districts.

Officials from the corps and the Environmental Protection Agency met yesterday and announced their agreement but provided few specifics.

EPA officials said they want to know if any of the school grounds might have pollution problems similar to those uncovered on property of the River Valley schools in Marion County. The district's high school and middle school were built on an old Army depot.

"We did an initial survey to find out if we had other schools on or near formerly used defense sites,'' said EPA spokeswoman Beth Gianforcaro. "Now we are taking it to the next step.''

Investigators already are looking into three of the former defense sites. At one of those sites, the corps removed contaminated soil from a former ammunition dump last summer in Lordstown, Ohio, said Graham Mitchell, chief of the Ohio EPA's Office of Federal Facilities Oversight.

On the rest of the properties, "we don't have any information on any of them to indicate that there is any problem whatsoever,'' Mitchell said.

Mitchell did not say how closely the properties will be scrutinized or how long it will take.

"That's what we are starting to do right now -- we're talking about the process,'' he said.

Mitchell and Bonnie Buthker, the EPA liaison with the Defense Department, met yesterday with Kevin Jasper, the corps' project manager in Marion, and other officials.

Buthker stressed that there may be no contamination on these sites.

"All we know at this point is that these are schools located on formerly used defense sites,'' she said.

The decision to evaluate the properties comes almost two years after the two agencies began investigating environmental contamination on the grounds at River Valley high school and middle school.

The schools were built on the former site of the Marion Engineering Depot, where military vehicles were stored and repaired during World War II. Investigations have since shown that part of the school grounds was used as a waste pit by the Army. About half of the 78-acre River Valley campus is contaminated with petroleum byproducts and waste solvents. Contractors began erecting a chain-link fence around part of the property this week, and school officials are talking with federal authorities about relocating the schools.

In Trumbull County, investigators found a waste pit at the former site of the Lordstown Ordnance Depot, Mitchell said.

About 200 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed. It included chlorinated solvents and petroleum-based pollutants, he said.

Part of that 567-acre property, although not where the contamination has been found, is used as an outdoor environmental education center by the Trumbull County Board of Education. Mitchell said fifth-graders from various school districts conduct research projects on the site.

The corps is investigating the rest of the property.

Two large underground heating- oil tanks contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were removed from the former Bellefontaine Air Force Station in Logan County. The 52-acre site is now used by the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center.

Petroleum storage tanks were removed from the former Rossford Army Depot in Wood County. A community college and a vocational school share the 886-acre property with an industrial park.

EPA officials did not say when the work was done at Bellefontaine and Rossford. All of the formerly used defense sites were reviewed in recent years by the corps, Mitchell said, but in most cases that review involved looking at the Army's file on the property.

"As we have found in Marion, sometimes that file is not as complete as we would hope it would be.''

State lawmakers are considering an amendment to the state budget bill that would allow Ohio schools to tap into a state fund if a school needs to be relocated because of "extreme environmental contamination.''

Copyright 1999, The Columbus Dispatch

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