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AK study disputes EPA PCB-dumping claims

By Thomas Gnau

Journal Business Writer


In a jab at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, AK Steel Corp. said Tuesday that an environmental assessment found no risk to humans or the environment from chemicals in Dicks Creek.

The study -- paid for by AK and performed by Denver-based Arcadis Geraghty & Miller -- does not say there are no chemicals in Dicks Creek, and it does not identify chemical sources, said Alan McCoy, AK's vice president of public affairs.

"It just says, 'Whatever they are, and wherever they come from, they do not pose a risk,' " McCoy said.

The study found risks are "from 10 to more than 100 times below the level considered significant by the U.S. EPA itself," AK said in a statement.

"We are not prepared to accept the conclusions without a close review of their methods and their assumptions," said Robert Guenther, a staff attorney for the EPA in the agency's Chicago office, which is responsible for a region that includes Ohio.

Guenther said the agency would consider the study's source and who paid for the analysis.

"We are evaluating it, and it's rather lengthy," he said. "We are not prepared to accept the conclusions at face value."

The study found "significant" concentrations of chemicals in Dicks Creek, but these were upstream, or east, of AK, and against the creek's flow, McCoy said.

"No matter where these chemicals came from, they don't pose a threat," he said. "Further, we know there are significant sources other than AK Steel."

McCoy said the study found about 20 "pipes, culverts and other conduits to channel runoff" to the creek in the study area, from the creek's confluence with the Great Miami River to about three-quarters of a mile east of Cincinnati-Dayton Road. The study area is about seven miles, including tributaries.

Dicks Creek flows west to the Great Miami, from an area east of Union Road in Warren County, through southern Middletown. Much of that stretch is industrial land, and much of it travels across AK's Middletown Works.

AK's statement said the study used EPA methods and assumptions. McCoy said the assumptions in some cases were "unreasonably conservative."

He said AK has commissioned "several other" studies related to Dicks Creek and other environmental issues. McCoy wasn't more precise about how many other studies there are and wouldn't say how much the Arcadis study cost AK.

But he said this study, started in early 1997, was the first AK study to be concluded.

Arcadis assumed that people living near the creek would "drink surface water directly out of Dicks Creek, eat mud from the very bottom of the creek and eat fish from the creek over a 30-year period.

"Nonetheless, even with unrealistic assumptions, the exhaustive study found that the low levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other chemicals presented no discernible risk to humans or the environment by a wide margin," AK said in its statement.

McCoy said that while AK Steel Corp. stands behind the study's results, the company nonetheless reminds residents near Dicks Creek that EPA postings that warn against fishing, swimming or wading should be heeded until a court might revoke those warnings.

The announcement comes less than a year after an August 2000 U.S. EPA administrative order to AK that claimed AK dumped PCBs into the creek. The order gave AK two weeks to stop alleged dumping and required cleanup and investigation plans.

AK submitted the study's findings to a federal court in Cincinnati earlier this month with a request for an injunction seeking to stay that order.

"The court should be given the opportunity to assess the considerable evidence presented by AK Steel that any chemicals of concern in the Dicks Creek study area pose no risk to humans, plants or animals," McCoy said.

In June 2000, the U.S. Justice Department sued AK in the same court for the EPA, alleging AK violated the Clean Water, Clean Air and Resource Conservation and Recovery acts. A hearing in that lawsuit is set for July 9; McCoy said filings continue to be directed to the court.

Mike Mikulka, an EPA environmental engineer in waste, pesticides and toxics in the agency's Chicago office, said the EPA will respond to the AK study.


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