Cuyahoga County is one step closer to building a new juvenile detention center at a brownfield site on Cleveland's East Side. A City Council committee has approved the rezoning of the 16-acre plot the county has chosen, and the County Commissioners will make a final vote to purchase the land at the end of the month. The land poses several political and financial risks, though, because of its extensive chemical contamination. 90.3's April Baer reports.
April Baer- The site of the old Schmidt and Sons Brewery - on the edge of Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood - has something of a checkered history. Previous owners of the 16-acre lot include several steel companies, manufacturing plants, and other industrial corporations. Craig Kaspar is Vice President of Hull and Associates, the consulting firm that recently assessed the site for the county.
Craig Kaspar- The chemicals that were found at the site were commonly found at older industrial sites in cities around the US, legacies of our industrial heritage. Using oils and cleaners and stuff like that.
AB- The list of contaminants found at hazardous levels includes lead, arsenic, and a laundry list of industrial by-products. Some residents who live near the site have wondered for a long time how that chemical cocktail is affecting their health.
This group of eight East Side residents has been meeting for over a year now - sharing information, pouring over newspaper articles, trying to find a way to keep the proposed juvenile detention center out of their neighborhood. Some are worried about their property values. But as they gathered this weekend over coffee and donuts in a local church basement, their talk turned to their fears about the health risks the site might pose. Linda Thompson says she has a hard time believing any clean-up will make the site safe for the children who'll stay there.
Linda Thompson- In our lifetime, we will not live long enough for that land to be cleaned up for residential property. If you clean up a brownfield, perhaps you could put a business there.
AB- Local environmental agencies say it's rare for a site to be brought from industrial to residential standard, but County Commission President Jane Campbell is adamant that the finished juvenile detention complex will pose no danger.
Jane Campbell- We will design the facility in such a way that we will dig an extremely deep basement - 14 feet, to be precise. We will remove all the residual difficult chemicals. We will remove them we will put them in trucks, and sent out of Cuy(ahoga) C(oun)ty to a sanitary landfill. Near as we can tell this clean up will make this the cleanest site in the city of Cleveland, probably in the state of Ohio of a property that had been used for industrial purposes.
AB- The county's current plan calls for the site to be brought up to the Ohio EPA's residential standard. But the state's criteria does not require that all contaminants be completely removed. Some advocates complain the state standards don't take into account how long-term exposure to pollution might affect vulnerable populations, like pregnant women - or children.
If the detention center is built, children housed in its shelter facility could stay on site for months, maybe even longer. Robert Indian with the Ohio Department of Health has been researching problems at the River Valley school district in Marion, Ohio. The school was constructed over a contaminated industrial site, and its graduates now show higher than normal rates of leukemia and other diseases. He says on sites with multiple contaminants, it's almost impossible to sort out cause and effect. The best way to prevent health problems, he says, is to avoid them altogether.
Robert Indian- It would be extremely difficult, I would say that, and while we can talk about risk factors and causes of cancer in general, it's very difficult to say, "Uh-huh, this is what caused yours." But certainly it would be beneficial for all parties involved to take all steps to assure a safe involvement for children and adults.
AB- County officials insist the situation at East 93rd and Quincy is not the same as the one at River Valley. But even they admit this is the largest and most ambitious land remediation project ever undertaken in Cleveland. In the end, the county's clean-up job may have to be nothing short of spectacular. Federal law states that the party responsible for contamination is the owner of the property. If it's ever proved that children or employees sickened as a result of their exposure at the juvenile detention center, the county could be held liable for failing to provide adequate safeguards.