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Ohio EPA, Sierra Club at odds over pollution results

By Thomas Gnau

Ohio Environmental Pro-tection Agency officials say they appreciate work the Sierra Club and allied groups have done in analyzing Dicks Creek pollution.

But they say the analysis isn’t enough to link pollution to AK Steel Corp., as the activists are trying.

“There’s not enough data... ” said Nita Nord-strom, a Dayton-based site coordinator with the OEPA Division of Emergency and Remedial Response.

“ ....based on these two samples,” said Jeff Hines, the Dayton assistant chief, finishing the sentence for Nord-strom in a phone in-terview Friday.

AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy on Friday jumped on that.

“Two samples? Taken by some environmental activists?” McCoy said. “Come on — we’ve had PhDs crawling over that place for five years.

“Let’s consider what Dicks Creek is and has been for decades — an urban runoff and waste-water tributary,” he added.

McCoy said the activists need to compare their samples to samples they are certain come only from AK property. He doesn’t think they have done that.

And they have not, Sierra Club staffer Susan Knight acknowledged. But, she said, they will.

“It was an excellent suggestion, and we are going to do that,” Knight said.

Nordstrom otherwise praised the groups’ study, which was made public Thursday, calling its analysis “extensive,” even “rigorous.” She said she couldn’t comment on their sampling techniques or handling of samples, however.

And the EPA officials did not excuse Middletown-based AK. The state has joined a federal lawsuit against AK in Cincinnati’s federal court, alleging violations of environmental laws. The Sierra Club is an intervener in that suit.

“We certainly have issues with AK Steel and contamination in Dicks Creek,” Hines said.

But linking PCBs, polyclorinated biphenyls, to AK isn’t possible based on these samples, they said.

“It’s not a sufficient quantity of samples,” Hines said.

Both said the study does not put the creek — its path runs behind a trailer park and Amanda Elementary School — in a new light. Nordstrom said she has seen PCB concentrations as high as 300 parts per million in other parts of the creek.

The activists said they found concentrations of PCBs as high as 5.9 parts per million in one sediment sample near Yankee and Oxford State roads and another at 2 parts per million behind Amanda.

Nordstrom called those concentrations “fairly elevated.”

Asked if those levels are dangerous, she said: “They could be. There’s a possibility they are if humans are exposed to them.”

BUT NORDSTROM added that public health officials have long realized that the creek is not safe, pointing to signs posted since the mid-1990s warning residents not to swim, bathe, play or eat fish from the creek. Even AK has emphasized the warnings.

The most toxic form of exposure would be eating a fish contaminated by PCBs, she said.

At a press conference on the property of old Amanda School Friday, activists presented Dr. David Carpenter, professor of environmental health and toxicology at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

“You can breathe these in,” Carpenter said of PCBs. “You can absorb these into your skin if you go wading into contaminated sediment.”

The Sierra Club is not paying Carpenter for his work and has never paid him, Knight said. Carpenter said the group did cover his travel expenses.

Carpenter, a medical doctor and professor of environmental health and toxicology, was the founding dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany. He has been interviewed by the news program “60 Minutes,” and Sierra is presenting him as an expert on PCBs.

But Knight also said her organization wants to enlist Carpenter as an “expert witness” in federal litigation against AK. She said that unless it’s “standard practice” to pay expert witnesses, the organization will not pay Carpenter.

Carpenter wasn’t sure about the idea of testifying.

“This is the first I’ve heard about it,” he said when asked about it Friday.

Carpenter said he has testified in a lawsuit against Monsanto Co., a lawsuit filed by residents of Anniston, Ala., settled in April 2001. He has been deposed in other lawsuits, he said.

He said he uses most of his payments for serving as a witness to support his students and university.

Asked if he has given the Sierra Club’s Dicks Creek data more than a cursory study, Carpenter said, “Yes and no.” He said he operates from a “base of knowledge” and long experience in the subject.

Carpenter has studied the health of Native Americans who live on the St. Lawrence River, the Sierra Club says. Knight said people concerned about the state of the Hudson River in New York recommended him to her organization.

“We were trying to secure an expert just to talk about these issues in a technical way,” Knight said.

published 05/10/03



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