Seven years ago, scientists found a host of
volatile chemicals slipping beneath the soil of a
factory and into the groundwater around Middlefield. The
names -- trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, methene
chloride, and dichloroethene -- meant nothing to
residents. To the scientists, they meant trouble.
They can cause liver, kidney, and nerve problems,
not to mention rashes and birth defects. The longer
these chemicals linger in the ground, the more dangerous
yet, seven years later, the pollution is still there, in
more places than anyone thought possible in 1994.
Middlefield is worried. Residents still don't know how
to pronounce the long, scary names, but they look at
their neighbors and see neurological diseases, leukemia,
and autism. Some residents say that nearly every house
in town has suffered illness, from cancer to rare muscle
They wonder if their children are at risk. They
wonder why, after seven years, the Ohio EPA has yet to
begin cleaning up the area. And they can't help but
wonder if, seven years from now, they will still be
Every morning, the hilly roads leading into
Middlefield are a stream of headlights. Cars from
Warren, Solon, and Ravenna carry workers along the
winding asphalt to eastern Geauga County and
Middlefield's factories. The biggest -- Carlisle
Engineered Products, Duramax Johnson Rubber, and
Kraftmaid Cabinetry -- stagger start times to keep
Though only 2,000 people sleep in Middlefield,
5,000 work here, creating a bustle alien to most small
towns. "We have enough fast food for a town twice this
size," Council President Edna Davis says dryly. "And you
wouldn't believe the traffic we get. It takes me 20
minutes to drive across town."
Middlefield has historically welcomed growth.
"We've always been a progressive city, and we've always
accommodated industry as it came," Davis says. Kraftmaid
alone has received 10 tax abatements since moving to the
village in 1984.
Most villagers either work at the factories or
used to work at them. Some roots go back generations:
Johnson Rubber was founded in 1895. Geauga Industries
was formed in 1944. In 1958, it was sold to the larger
Carlisle Corporation and renamed Carlisle Engineered
Products, with several factory expansions to follow.
Both companies produce rubber parts for companies
like Chrysler and General Electric. The work isn't easy,
but employees take pride in its rigor. "Rubber is what
got this town where it is," says Al Bontraeger, a
Johnson retiree who boasts of getting "blisters on top
of blisters" at the plant. "That, and the Amish."
Middlefield and the surrounding township are host
to the nation's third-largest Amish settlement. Horses
still clip-clop down State Street, pulling slender
buggies. The men sport long beards; the women, bonnets.
Visitors are sometimes startled by the contrast
of picturesque barns sitting feet from factories, of
buggies and semis jockeying for space on two-lane roads.
In Middlefield, Amish and industry coexist: The Amish
provide factories with a solid labor force, while the
factories give the Amish work in an age when sidewalks
and subdivisions devour the county's farmland.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - -
friendly version of this story|
this story to a friend|
stories by Sarah Fenske|
this author |
||Send a letter