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Dicks Creek samples will provide polluters’ ‘fingerprints'

By Sheri King

Ray Agee learned to swim in Dicks Creek. On Saturday — despite the nearly 100-degree temperatures — he donned protective gear and joined about 20 volunteers taking sediment and water samples to test for dangerous levels of pollutants.

“I’m in the creek for the people of Middletown, especially for the children,” the 61-year-old Agee said, pointing toward Amanda Elementary School.

Only a field separates the school, which will house more than 500 children this fall, from Dicks Creek. Susan Knight from the Sierra Club in Cincinnati said she suspects the creek is full of PCBs, dangerous carcinogens.

The samples taken Saturday will be sent to an environmental lab where they will provide a “fingerprint” of who is dumping the dangerous pollutants in Dicks Creek, she said. Knight said the No. 1 suspect is Middletown’s AK Steel.

Once the environmental lab returns its findings on the research, Knight said the Sierra Club will be able to compare it to a list of AK’s known emissions and pinpoint whether the steel giant is the culprit who’s polluting Dicks Creek.

“If it is AK, we’d like to sit down with them and advocate for facilities changes to stop the pollution,” said Knight, who added the results will be back in several months.

Alan McCoy, vice president of public affairs for AK Steel, said the company has no plans to sit down and discuss any findings with the Sierra Club.

Another purpose behind the Sierra Club’s tests is to educate the community about what is in Dicks Creek, Knight said.

The Sierra Club suspects the creek is so contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs that it only allowed people like Knight, who has had 40 hours of specialized training in handling hazardous wastes and was dressed in a hazmat suit, to take samples from the most polluted part of the creek.

Middletown volunteers were not permitted in dangerous areas, she said.

Her best advice to Middletown residents? “Stay away from the creek. Period,” she said.

The U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA have filed suit against AK for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. AK, which maintains its innocence, has been fighting the lawsuit for two years, and the suit is unsettled.

“Unfortunately, while such a lengthy court battle goes on, nothing is protecting the residents of Middletown whose children and pets have only a small sign separating them from dangerous carcinogens,” Knight said in a prepared statement.

The signs were posted by the Middletown Health Department, warning residents to avoid the waterway, she said.

McCoy said because the issue is the subject of a federal lawsuit, they won’t discuss it.

He also said he questions the Sierra Club’s intent. On Wednesday, a car with three women in it trespassed on AK’s property, McCoy said. The license plate on the car traced to Marilyn Wall, chairman of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, he claimed.

McCoy said the alleged trespasser was in a hazmat suit and company officials don’t know what the person was doing near AK’s outfall to Dicks Creek.

Wall said she was monitoring Dicks Creek on Wednesday, but she did it from the Amanda School site; from the site of a welding company that gave them permission; and from a public roadway.

“We have no intention of trespassing on anyone’s property,” she said.

AK has employed a worldwide environmental assessment firm for nearly five years to assess AK’s effect on Dicks Creek and the firm has said there is no danger, McCoy said.

“We don’t believe there is any potential for harm to humans or aquatic life,” McCoy said. “We have tested the waters of Dicks Creek and they do not contain detectable levels of PCBs.”

McCoy said at least 15 or 20 more businesses also release materials into Dicks Creek and AK has learned that in 1995, PCBs were released into the Miami River upstream from AK’s intake. Those PCBs could have entered Dicks Creek through AK’s intake, he said.



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