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Dicks Creek PCB levels deemed ‘dangerous’

By Thomas Gnau, Journal Business Writer, E-mail:

Dangerously high levels of PCBs have been found in samples from two locations in Dicks Creek, environmental activists said Thursday.

“There’s certainly enough information from what you have now to know you have a problem,” said Dr. David O. Carpenter, a physician and former dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, State University of New York, who took part in a conference call held by the environmental group Thursday afternoon.

Carpenter is a professor of environmental health and toxicology and is an expert in PCBs in waterways. He has been working with the Sierra Club.

In a creek sediment sample taken near Oxford State and Yankee roads, levels of polychlorinated biphenyls concentrated at 5.9 parts per million were discovered, the Cincinnati-based activists said.

Behind Amanda Elementary School, concentrations of 2 parts per million were discovered in another sediment sample, they said.

And they point to AK Steel Corp. as the source of the manmade chemicals.

“At some point, we have to say that AK Steel is the 800-pound, PCB-releasing gorilla sitting on Dicks Creek,” Sierra Club member Susan Knight said.

Knight contends that particular “Aroclors” — a Monsanto trade name for certain PCBs — match those identified by the Environmental Protection Agency and even AK’s own testing agency in separate samplings on AK property.

“This basically fingerprints the source of the PCBs,” Carpenter said, from Albany, N.Y., during the conference call.

But Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer questioned whether the activists have done enough work to make a definitive link to AK.

“Two samples — that’s a pretty limited number,” Lauer said.

She said the agency was not ready to draw conclusions from the samples.

But Carpenter sounded convinced. He said that at levels of 1 to 5 parts per million, “something has to be done about it.” Materials with concentrations higher than 10 parts per million must be taken to a hazardous waste landfill, he said.

Knight argued that “Dicks Creek contains literally millions of times the legal limit.”

Sheridan Avenue resident Peggy Littlejohn, 25, whose eight-year-old daughter is an Amanda second-grader, called the findings “scary.” She worries that children aren’t prevented from playing in the creek before or after school.

“I drop her off when school starts, so I watch her walk in the door,” Littlejohn said.

Joe DiStaola, Middletown City Schools business manager, said children are not permitted in the creek during school hours. He couldn’t comment on what happens before or after school.

AK commissioned its own study of the creek with Denver-based Arcadis G&M. In 2001, AK said the study used EPA methods to find that risks from chemicals “in the area of the creek” to be from “10 to more than 100 times below the level considered significant by the U.S. EPA itself.”

“I don’t believe you will find anyone in the scientific community that would be able to make any conclusion based on two data points,” said Alan McCoy, AK vice president of public affairs, on Thursday evening. “We will see if the activists attempt to present the evidence in court. If the data is valid, it tell us nothing new.”

McCoy has said the Sierra Club has resisted AK’s efforts to obtain the samples analysis in a legal discovery proceeding. State and federal environmental protection agencies are suing AK in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, alleging violations of environmental laws. The Sierra Club is an intervener in those proceedings.

The activists say they are willing to share their data.

McCoy said that upon finding out that the Sierra Club was hosting the press to tell of the new finding, AK immediately contacted Sierra Club lawyers for the finding and they objected on the grounds, “it would be too burdensome, and that it was not relevant.”

“That tells me they have no intention to make this part of the case, so it tells us it’s no more than a publicity stunt,” McCoy said.

AK HAS SAID that it has no operations that involve PCBs, but Marilyn Wall, of Environmental Community Organization, said PCBs can be found in lubricants leaking from discarded machinery.

Carpenter said the “cancer-causing” effects of PCBs have been known for years. But he said neurological ailments resulting from PCB exposure, especially among growing children, are beginning to be better understood. Those ailments include a weakened attention span, lowered intelligence and hormonal alterations.

“These are very dangerous chemicals, and probably the greatest concern I would have is exposure to little girls,” Carpenter said.

With PCBs staying in bodies “on an average of seven years,” those dangers could be passed on to children in the womb, he said.

Thomas Behlen, an Ohio assistant attorney general, declined comment. But attorney general’s office spokesman Mark Gribben said that while he has not seen the activists’ data, their contention is “not a shock for us.”

“It has always been the contention of the attorney general’s office that the PCB contamination in Dicks Creek is attributable to AK Steel,” Gribben said.

“If they (the activists) had not done this, we would still be prepared to go to court with the evidence that we had,” Gribben said.

Discovery in the litigation is scheduled to end in August. There may be requests by both sides for summary judgment by November, Gribben said. If the judge doesn’t grant such a judgment, a trial date will be set, Gribben said.

Activists plan to hold a press conference today at the old Amanda School, off Oxford State Road.

DiStaola said the school district denied the group permission to have the event on nearby district property at Amanda Elementary School. The district does not own the dilapidated former Amanda School site where today’s press conference will be held.

The activists’ samples were collected last August. British Columbia-based Axys Analytical Services performed the analysis for $2,500 for each sample, Knight said.

Journal Staff Writer J. Ameer Rasheed contributed to this report.

Published 05.09.03



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