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Posted at 5:14 p.m. EDT Sunday, September 12, 1999

  

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Study says polluters not paying for water cleanup

BY JOHN MCCARTHY
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Industries that pollute Ohio's water supplies have been slow to pay for cleaning them up and the state Environmental Protection Agency is reluctant to force them to do so, according to a new study by two environmental advocacy groups.

The study released Monday found that of the 54 public water systems the EPA had designated as priorities in 1998, the polluting industries in only three cases helped to pay for their cleanup.

EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said she was did not know the source of the 54 cases, but that of the 89 cases cited in an EPA draft memo that accompanied the study, orders to help pay for the cleanup from either the Ohio EPA or U.S. EPA had been issued in 18 of them.

The report was compiled by Ohio Citizen Action, an environmental and political advocacy group, and the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. It investigated cases reported from 1993 through November 1998.

The total cost of cleaning up the pollution is not known, Jane Houlihan, senior analyst for the EWG, said Friday. But cities such as Dayton, Middletown and Wooster have spent more than $1 million each cleaning their water supplies, the report said.

Industries may have cleaned up their own property, but that doesn't help surrounding cities and villages that may not know the source of the pollution, Ms. Houlihan said. The polluters have an obligation to pay for cleaning up the water supplies, she said.

``The law doesn't care about the property line. These communities subsidize these polluting industries,'' Ms. Houilhan said.

Fulton Tubular Products in Fayette County, Joy Technologies in New Philadelphia and Union Carbide and Shell in Newport in Washington County were the only polluting industries that helped pay for their cleanup, the report said.

The EPA will go after polluters, but it faces two problems: state environmental law and the uncertain history of many pollution causing industries, Ms. Griesmer said.

``Right now the burden of proof is on the state to show a company is liable. The standards involve a great deal of environmental and historical data,'' she said.

Most of the pollutants are solvents, chemicals used to clean machinery and other property, said Sandy Buchanan, executive director of Ohio Citizen Action. The chemicals, many of them suspected of causing cancer, flow off the property and eventually into water supplies, she said.

The EPA has the authority to order the polluters to pay, but chooses not to do so, Ms. Buchanan said. The EPA's policies have hampered the agency's employees who are charged with enforcing the law, she said.

``It makes the EPA's job much more difficult, though frankly, the citizens recognize that more than the EPA does,'' Ms. Buchanan said. ``They also have resource problems that really cut back the line staff and the people out there inspecting permits.''

Ms. Griesmer said the EPA does the best job it can, although she acknowledged that resources at the agency are stretched: ``That is one problem,'' she said.

She said the agency is currently ``developing a long-term cleanup strategy for the state.''

Citizen Action has a suggestion: creating an Ohio ``Superfund,'' much like the one the federal government has for cleaning up the worst pollution. Industries that are fined for pollution could pay for the fund, Ms. Buchanan said.

``The motivation would have to be you're not going to sock taxpayers with the cost,'' she said. ``We ... still support a tax on pollution.''

Ms. Griesmer said she did not know whether the Superfund idea was under consideration as part of the agency's review.

``I know that we are looking at a variety of things,'' she said.


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