Trouble at River Valley High: Part Two

AB- It's been three years now since the Ohio Department of Health first began investigating pollution and leukemia rates in Marion. Three government agencies have been gathering data. The River Valley school district has even gathered data of its own, hiring a own consultant to monitor radiation levels on school grounds. And still the community has more questions than answers. These River Valley high school students say they believe their school does have a pollution problem, and they aren't impressed with the way adults have dealt with it.

Student- I think so I think we need a new school because I think we have to and they're just not telling us because everyone would leave.....yeah, it bothers me because think about it all of the money that they've spent on our school to find out what's going on, they could have built us three new schools. I just think they need to build us a new school and GET IT OVER WITH!!!!

AB- But finding a solution for River Valley won't be quite that simple. To begin with, there's little agreement about how epidemic the cancer outbreak is. Some of the statistics are undeniable. The Ohio Department of Health confirmed nine cases of leukemia last year. But a group formed by families of the afflicted believes there could be hundreds more. Roxanne Krumenaker is with the Concerned River Valley Families.

Roxanne Krumenaker- Leukemia isn't the only cancer right now that's out of bounds. It's the only one confirmed by the Department of Health but there are other cancers that are much more than they should be....Some people won't even come forward and tell you their illnesses, but since this is going on, we've heard a non-Hodgkins lymphoma case, thyroid cancer, couple thyroid cancers, it hasn't stopped.

AB- The Health Department has also found an unusually high number of leukemia cases among women age fifty or older.

Even with an accurate count of diagnoses, the cause of these cancers is elusive. The list of toxins known to cause leukemia is short, and according to the Leukemia Society of America, there is no adequate explanation for the cause. What is known is that leukemia can be triggered by exposure to radiation, and certain kinds of chemical solvents, like benzene, or organofluorocarbons.

Heidi Griesmer- There are several chemicals of concern that we're looking for.

AB- Heidi Griesmer is with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

HG- We have done a lot of soil sampling all around the school grounds and extensively in the 6 acre area that is fenced off. We've also done some ground water samples.

AB- Since River Valley's land used to belong to the military, the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting the investigation, with Ohio EPA overseeing and assisting. The Corps acknowledges that some solvents were dumped into a six-acre disposal site - literally at River Valley High's back door. The main ingredient, according to the Corps, is TCE or trichloroethylene, a degreasing agent was used to clean heavy equipment the Corps maintained at the site that became River Valley. TCE HAS been linked with leukemia in animal studies, but not conclusively.

If TCE turns out to be the worst of the contamination, it's not guaranteed to help nail down the source of River Valley's pollution problem. Barbara Kehoe is a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers. She notes the district owns seventy-eight acres of land. The remedial investigation coming out within the next few weeks concerns only six of them.

Barbara Kehoe- We need to make sure people understand that the remedial RI that's coming out at the end of this month is just for the disposal area.....We wanted to address this main area of concern first, for the safety of the students. And the FS, the feasibility study that's coming out, at the end of March is for again, just the disposal area that we're looking at, and we're going to proceed with the investigation on the rest of the property, and we'll be out in the field again this summer.

AB- Finally, there's the problem of who should be held accountable for making River Valley a dangerous place to be. The army has admitted some guilt, and says it will remediate the property based on its own risk assessment. But at least one company, Patent Scaffolding, has had a run in with the EPA over the dumping of chemical solvents in soil, just over the fence from the school's property. Those charges, the company says, have been settled and the company now uses methods of disposal approved by Ohio EPA. But it's just one of dozens of firms that have owned land near River Valley over the years, that could conceivably have played a part in the contamination.

At this point, the Army Corps of Engineers appears ready to assume at least partial responsibility for cleaning up River Valley's contamination. But already the Corps and school district officials are quarreling over the cost of that effort, and how extensive it will be. On Thursday the Corps will release a report detailing the worst of the contamination. A study on possible solutions will follow in March.

For INFOHIO, I'm April Baer in Cleveland.

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