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Local air study widens

By Connie Cartmell,

Air quality is grabbing even more local attention as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has added more monitors and testing in the area.

During the week of Feb. 25, the agency, tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, began measuring the levels of emissions in air at three new sites on both sides of the Ohio River — Harmar Village and Boaz and Vienna, W.Va.

Additional monitoring is a breath of fresh air to members of Neighbors of Clean Air, a citizen group that has worked more than a decade for this news.

“It’s been needed to be done. We are very pleased,” said Caroline Beidler, with the group since the beginning. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will operate the air monitors and perform the laboratory analyses in the collection program, according to Dagny Olivares, health and communications specialist with the agency.

Chemical emissions from five local facilities in the former Union Carbide industrial complex — Chevron/Phillips, Eramet Marietta Inc., Eveready, American Municipal Power Ohio, and Solvay — will be monitored.

“Ohio EPA data from existing test sites indicated the testing needed to be expanded,” Olivares said. “According to data from the Ohio EPA monitoring stations, manganese exposures are higher for residents who live closer to the former Union Carbide.”

Agency scientists are most concerned about manganese.

“It’s being found in higher levels than is normal,” Olivares said.

The public health issue is mental and developmental disorders that have been linked to high levels of this metal.

Styrene, toluene, ammonia, chlorobenzene, chloromethane, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and chromium are also going under the microscope.

“We ingest these metals through the water, air, sometimes even in the stuff that comes out of our gardens,” Beidler said. “We know there is manganese here. Now we are wondering just how far it has gone.”

Predictions by the agency of where certain chemicals would move from the facilities is based on air dispersion models using weather, terrain and the amounts of chemical released in to the air.

Data from two existing Ohio EPA rural monitoring stations are part of the original study.

The new monitoring is expected to continue about a year, according to Olivares.

It was strange odors seeping into their homes a decade ago that drew a group of local citizens together to form Neighbors for Clean Air in the first place.

“It turns out that manganese isn’t part of the odors. They come from a different part of the plant,” Beidler said of the manganese producer — Eramet. “There were a lot of late-night trips following the odors. We didn’t really know what we were looking for.”

Over the years, the group has gathered enough information to know that the Eramet plant is old and in need of renovation, she said.

“This plant is very antiquated. They have had two furnace accidents recently, the latest yesterday (Thursday) and they need to update this plant,” she said.

New technology and total renovation is required if Eramet is planning to stay and continue to be a good employer, she said.

Eramet Director of Human Resources Ethan Frank-Collins said it is unfortunate when people make such statements without having full knowledge of the situation.

“The Eramet plant has been a part of this area since the early 1950s, and the plant has been upgraded continually since then,” he said. “I’m not sure to what that comment was referencing.”

The plant undergoes regular maintenance and overhauls as needed, Frank-Collins said.

The U.S. EPA and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection are providing technical assistance or site development of the monitoring stations, as well as site security and quality assurance during the investigation.

In addition, the Ohio Department of Health, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Washington County, the City of Marietta and the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Departments are also assisting, according to Olivares.




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