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Ohio EPA questions dearth of interviews
Some former Army workers have yet to be asked about waste-disposal practices at the old Marion depot.
Thursday, January 13, 2000
MARION, Ohio -- Nearly two years ago, a former Army employee showed federal investigators exactly where to find toxic waste buried on the River Valley middle- and high-school campus.
Bill Livingston drove to the school in March 1998 during the Army Corps of Engineers' dig to offer his recollections from when he worked at the Marion Engineering Depot in 1943 and in the late 1950s.
At Livingston's direction, investigators discovered a former military dump buried beneath 6 acres of school athletic fields. The area has since been fenced off because of the presence of high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
Impressed by his accurate recollections, the corps asked to interview the 74- year-old Marion resident at length.
He's been waiting ever since.
"They took my name, phone number and address,'' Livingston said. "I'm disgusted. I know there are things they are passing up.''
The corps now wants to interview him Friday, but his interest in helping has been diminished by the lack of interest shown by the agency leading an investigation of contamination at the school site.
Despite highly publicized pleas for former military employees to come forward with information about military disposal practices in Marion, some say the Army Corps of Engineers is not willing to listen.
Another former Army employee, Harry Klein, remembers dumping materials in another location. He twice left messages on the corps' toll-free hot line.
"I gave them my phone number and address,'' said Klein of Marion. "They never called back.''
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency now is questioning why interviews have not been conducted.
Last month, the EPA criticized the corps for not reviewing enough historical aerial photographs that could reveal other toxic hot spots on school grounds. The corps responded that it is conducting a thorough investigation.
Photographs and the recollections of former employees are crucial because investigators are searching for waste dumped, buried or burned in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, said Jeff Steers, assistant chief of the EPA's Bowling Green office.
"We want it done thoroughly,'' he said. "When these issues come up, it does hurt the credibility of the investigation.''
The corps said it has and will continue to talk with former employees.
"We've done so much sampling, we felt like we were doing everything,'' said corps spokeswoman Barbara Kehoe. "But we're trying to follow up (on interviews) now.''
Interviews recorded by the corps include messages left on answering machines, discussions with a corps secretary and a summer intern, and second-hand information gleaned from an Ohio EPA report.
Ohio EPA officials thought the corps was sending experienced environmental investigators to interview former depot workers and other Marion residents, Steers said.
"Within the past year, there's been no detailed interviews,'' he said. "Our agency had an expectation that they would interview those who wanted to be interviewed.''
Kehoe, who works with the corps' environmental-investigation team, said she began two weeks ago scheduling phone interviews with former employees and making sure the 102 people on her list have been questioned.
She said she will be interviewing Livingston this week.
The schools were built on a portion of the former Marion Engineering Depot, a 640-acre military equipment restoration facility.
River Valley built its middle and high schools on 78 acres after the depot closed in the early 1960s.
State and federal officials launched an extensive environmental investigation in 1997 after high rates of leukemia were discovered among River Valley graduates.
The east end of the depot, where the campus is located, was used for disposal for 30 years. Livingston said he dumped construction debris and scrap material there every day.
So he knew the corps was digging in the wrong spot when he arrived at the school on March 29, 1998.
Livingston called investigators to the fence where he watched the excavation and directed them to move their bulldozers a few hundred feet.
After the bulldozer pulled out three feet of dirt from the location Livingston pinpointed, petroleum rose to the surface, bringing with it a powerful stench of gasoline and diesel fuel.
"I lost so many friends that worked out there,'' he said. "Six friends all died at an early age. And then I got to thinking, I have kids who went to that school.''
Livingston thinks he has other relevant information about another dump site on or near the middle school.
Steers was surprised Livingston had not been interviewed at length.
"If he's got something to offer, he needs to be interviewed.''
Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch