2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 18 Jul 2002 22:16:19 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Marion Engineering Depot, Ohio
[The former Marion Engineering Depot, in Marion, Ohio, has been
recognized for the past few years as one of the horror stories of
military contamination. Middle School and High School students have been
attending school on a contaminated formerly used defense site since the
1960s. It appeared, to outsiders, that the problem was resolved in 2000,
when a deal was struck to relocate the schools. However, that relocation
will not take place until the fall term, 2003. The following report,
from Jodi Griffith <ppsi@gte.net> of Concerned River Valley Families,
describes the history of the site as well as the current concerns of
many members of the Marion community. - LS]

The River Valley (RV) Schools investigation began in June 1997 when
parents noticed a high rate of leukemia and other cancers among former
students of RV.  The Ohio EPA (OEPA) and Ohio Department of Health (ODH)
were notified and an investigation was launched.  We soon learned that
the history of the RV school site was cause for concern.  The property
was used for agriculture until 1942, when the War Department acquired
654 acres to build the Marion Engineer Depot (MED), the largest facility
of its kind in the USA.  At the same time, the War Department purchased
over 12,000 acres north of the MED site to build the Scioto Ordnance
Plant (SOP), which manufactured bombs, fuses, and boosters. In 1948, the
Atomic Energy Commission purchased 1,200 acres of the SOP to build an
atomic research installation to be operated by Monsanto. Questions
remain regarding the activities that took place at this facility.  The
MED stored and repaired heavy equipment such as cranes, trucks,
scrapers, generators, etc.  They also stored Bailey bridges and the
radioactive markers used on them, radioactive metascopes, raw bulk
materials and ores, transformers, etc. Activities included cleaning,
stripping of cosmoline, sandblasting, degreasing, draining oil and
gasoline, oiling, lubricating, and painting heavy equipment.  During
WWII, there was a prisoner of war camp.  Prisoners arrived at the MED by
train and were deloused with fumigants containing arsenic.

The MED began phasing down in 1961.  In 1962, the property was sold off
in several parcels. The US Army Reserves purchased 130 acres for a Local
Training Area (LTA).  River Valley School District purchased 78 acres on
the east end of the former MED. The GSA reserved 144 acres.  The rest
was purchased by various industries.

In 1962, River Valley High School was built on the former MED property. 
River Valley Middle School was built next to it in 1968.  There have
been approximately 5,500 graduates from RV since then.  Younger children
also used the ball fields for Little League sports activities.

When the OEPA and ODH became involved in 1997, it soon became clear that
leukemia rates at RV were elevated.  Through historical searches and
eyewitness accounts of former MED employees, it also became clear that
the disposal practice for hazardous materials at the former MED was to
bury or burn on site.  The disposal areas were mainly pits and trenches,
although there was also surface disposal and spills that occurred both
on the ground and in ditches.  The main disposal areas at the MED had
been on the east and south sides of the property.  RV schools are now
located on the eastern end, and the Army Reserves Outdoor Training Area
is on the south end.  Despite this information, local community leaders
were more concerned at the possible negative financial impact this
information would have on the community than they were about the
negative health implications to the students.  Alarm bells were sounded
that property values would decrease and community development would
suffer if we were to become known as "Cancer Valley."  The community
became divided, and politicians fanned the flames.  What started as a
scientific investigation into a leukemia cluster and toxic waste dump
became what was later called "political science."  An OEPA memo
discussed their "intended outcomes."  The free reign of the USACE, as
the responsible party, to investigate and characterize the nature and
extent of their own liability was often characterized as "the fox
guarding the hen house."  Every effort was being made to minimize the
problem rather than to characterize it.

In 1997, the OEPA hired contractors to do preliminary testing at RV. 
Soil and groundwater testing revealed several areas of serious concern. 
Yellow caution tape, like that used at crime scenes, was strung around
certain areas of RV's ball fields.  To ease the shock of the test
results, the public was immediately assured that although the
contamination was there, there were no pathways of exposure to the
children.  Over a year later, the USACE's Preliminary RI acknowledged
that the pathways had been there all along.  Sadly, so had the children. 

The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) took over the investigation in early
1998.  Trenching activities were conducted to determine the nature and
extent of contamination.  Initially, the USACE characterized the
trenching as uncovering "construction debris and prisoner poop."  It was
later learned that petroleum products and chlorinated solvents began
filling the hole at a shallow depth, and the OEPA ordered the USACE to
halt their activities and immediately cover the area. As the
investigation progressed, more areas once thought safe were suddenly
deemed "off limits."  The USACE conducted a major arsenic removal from
the ditches surrounding the school property.  It was not until June,
1999 that a chain link fence was erected around 10 acres, or half, of
the 20 acre site now called Operable Unit 1 (OU1).  However, the girls'
softball field (located immediately adjacent to OU1 on one side and the
Middle School on the other) was still being used.  In April 1999,
results from testing done 4 months earlier revealed that TCE
contamination in the outfield area was some of the highest hits to date.
 Once the test results became public, an "Off Limits" sign was erected
at the field, but no access restriction was supplied. In one area, a
3,600 gallon TCE DNAPL (a TCE pool) has been characterized.  PAHs such
as benzo(a)pyrene, VOCs such as vinyl chloride and TCE, SVOCs, PCBs,
dioxins, and heavy metals make up the nearly 100 chemicals found onsite.
 Chlorinated solvents and other toxins have been found in the surface
soil, subsurface, groundwater, and air.  Over 40 acres of the 78 acre
school site is contaminated.

Paul Jayko was the site coordinator for the OEPA at RV.  Paul began the
investigation by thoroughly and methodically delving into any available
historical information about the former MED, including talking to former
MED employees.  Paul's goal was to assure that all appropriate testing
was being done to assure that the students were safe.  He hit continuous
roadblocks in his quest.  For example, his requests for air monitoring
went unheeded.  Paul realized that sending children back into the
schools to begin the 1998 school year was sending them into "unknown
risk" and he stated this in an e-mail. Truer words had never been
spoken, but they were the beginning of his demise. In June, 1998, Paul
Jayko was suspended for 10 days on trumped up charges.  The OEPA even
issued press releases regarding his suspension. Paul filed for
whistleblower status, and a 3-year legal struggle ensued.  In October
2000, Judge Thomas Phalen issued a scathing 100+ page ruling that not
only vindicated Mr. Jayko, but provided a serious indictment of the
OEPA's role in the RV investigation.  The ruling clearly showed that the
OEPA had not taken seriously the Governor's mandate to "leave no stone
unturned" at RV, yet were trying to convince the public that they had. 
The OEPA appealed, and Paul was victorious again when the Department of
Labor stepped in on his behalf.  He was reinstated to his position and
awarded thousands of dollars in compensation.  

In the summer of 2000, citizens discovered that the OEPA had known about
significant problems at this site since 1978, but failed to tell the
public.  The OEPA had been involved for years in contamination issues on
portions of the former MED across the fence from the school, but had
never shared this information with the other agencies, the RAB, or the

Paul Jayko was not the only whistleblower at this site.  In 1999, Jed
Ball, an employee contracted to do radiation scanning at RV, wrote to
the OEPA and USEPA saying that the technicians were instructed that
radiation testing at RV was merely "windowdressing" to appease parents'
concerns.  According to Mr. Ball, testing was done in such a way to
mischaracterize or not fully characterize possible radiation issues.  He
also stated actual readings were misreported and falsified.  The USACE's
 internal review declared that the radiation testing was adequate and no
further action was taken.

In the fall of 1998, a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) was set up for
the Marion Engineer Depot and Scioto Ordnance Plant.  In July 2000, the
first Technical Assistance for Public Participation (TAPP) consultants
reviewed the Remedial Investigation Report for OU1.  They pointed out
serious data gaps that needed to be addressed, and said the
investigation was inadequate to assure that students were safe until new
schools could be built elsewhere.  Their funding was terminated. 
Recently, the TAPP consultants issued a report outlining a need for
additional air monitoring.  They feel that air monitoring to date is not
adequate to evaluate risk at the site.  After nearly a year of stalling,
the OEPA has once again denied this request.

In 2000, an act of Congress created legislation that would allow
relocation of the two schools as part of the USACE's remediation plan. 
It was estimated that cleanup costs at RV could reach up to $60,000,000
to achieve the residential standards necessary to allow the children to
remain.  New schools could be built for less than half that amount. 
Through a cooperative agreement with the state, the Army provided
$15,000,000 to help build new schools for RV, with additional funding
coming from the Ohio School Facilities Commission's Extreme
Environmental Contamination Fund.  Marion voters passed a levy to make
up the difference.  The new schools may be completed by August 2003.

For over 5 years, 900 children per year have remained on the RV campus
as cancer clusters among graduates have been validated and toxic waste
has been characterized over nearly two-thirds of their school grounds. 
Areas once considered safe when the investigation began are now known to
be hazardous.  Thousands of RV graduates who did not have the luxury of
knowing they were being exposed to cancer-causing toxic waste for the 6
years they attended Middle and High School continue to report their
illnesses to the Ohio Department of Health.  Experts continue to
question the scope and effectiveness of testing done to date.  One OEPA
employee characterized our children as "guinea pigs in a lab" in
reference to what health effects might manifest from their exposure. 
Parents are forced to ask themselves how much risk is acceptable for
their children in order to attend their local public school.

Our goal remains to assure that everything is done to assure that the
children are safe.  Children should not have to go to school on a toxic
waste dump. These children should be temporarily relocated until new
schools are built. We also feel that past graduates have a right to know
that their unrestricted access to RV's grounds provided potential
exposures to a long list of toxins.  We continue to request that the
Ohio Department of Health provide graduates with information regarding
the growing numbers of cancer cases. River Valley graduates need some
sort of health tracking program that would continue to monitor long term
effects and provide information where needed.  We were unwitting
victims, but the same can not be said for the children who are allowed
to remain there today.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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