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Posted at 2:51 p.m. EST Sunday, January 21, 2001

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River Valley one of 12 campuses investigated for environmental hazards

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- An environmental investigation at the River Valley high and middle school campus near Marion revealed contamination and sparked public demands that students be moved. But River Valley is only one of a dozen Ohio schools built on or near former military sites that environmental officials evaluated last year.

The River Valley case has garnered the most attention recently, with many graduates and residents blaming the campus' contaminated soil for the unusually high rate of leukemia cases among former students.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials found a chemical waste pit on River Valley's land -- the site of the World War II military depot -- and have blocked off part of the campus until new schools can be built at another location.

Although River Valley has the worst contamination, according to state EPA officials, findings at six school sites prompted concerns about chemical or soil contamination and five still have active case files:

--Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland

--Fort Hayes Career Center, Columbus

--Nike Town and Country School, Cleveland

--Pioneer Career and Technical Center, Shelby

--Trumbull Area Multi-purpose Environmental Education Lab, Warren

Don Plotts is superintendent of the Pioneer Technical and Career Center, where investigators last year found a buried landfill at the edge of the school's property.

``We put up a snow fence right away with 'Keep Out' signs,'' Plotts said.

Investigators have said they are confident the material buried near the school is harmless.

Why were the schools built on military sites in the first place? The Pioneer school board, like the other schools, seized the opportunity to buy land from the military for $1 during selloffs in the 1960s.

``At the time, the environmental rules and regulations weren't in place,'' said Kevin Jasper, a project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. ``We didn't know at the time, for example, that TCE (trichloroethylene) was a carcinogen.''

TCE is one of the chemicals found at River Valley. Common practice at the time was for the chemical to be burned or simply poured on the ground.

There is still no national requirement that schools built on old military sites undergo environmental tests.

``There is no such things as cleanup standards for areas where children frequent,'' said Lois Gibbs, head of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice is Falls Church, Va. ``We know so little about our kids and their vulnerability.''

Gibbs was the one who led the campaign in the late 1970s to convince New York officials that chemical and other waste buried under the Love Canal community, where she lived, was making residents sick.

In March, Gibbs says she's starting a new campaign to get lawmakers to create environmental standards for schools, day-care centers and other places used by children.

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