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Polluters not paying, study says

John McCarthy
Monday, September 13, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- 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.

Dayton officials say they have had a good experience with the EPA. The companies responsible for several major spills have paid for the cleanup, according to Dusty Hall, assistant city manager and former city environmental protection manager.

"We've had good sucess in having companies pay us back," he said. "Sometimes it's required litigation, but most of the time it's worked out well."

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, 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," 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, 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.

DAYTON DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER John Keilman contributed to this report.

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