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Head of Ohio EPA demands results of leukemia study

April 16, 1999

MARION, O. - Ohio's top environmental regulator is at war with a military general, claiming information has been held back about the leukemia investigation at the River Valley consolidated school district complex.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Christopher Jones has fired off a tersely worded letter to Brigadier Gen. Hans A. Van Winkle of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying sampling data taken by the Corps in December should have been turned over by now.

``This situation is completely unacceptable,'' Mr. Jones wrote.

General Van Winkle is commander of the Corps' Great Lakes and Ohio River division in Cincinnati.

The data in question include samples from land where the military is believed to have burned or dumped tons of hazardous chemicals before 1962. The land is part of the River Valley middle school and high school complex at State Rts. 309 and 98, 100 miles southeast of Toledo and two miles east of Marion.

``While I understand the need for the [Corps] to provide its own internal review and analysis of data, I will not accept the withholding of this or future data for extended periods of time,'' Mr. Jones wrote.

Corps spokesman Kevin Jasper said officials routinely hold back on releasing scientific data until they are done interpreting it.

He conceded the River Valley investigation is somewhat unique, given the emotions that have arisen because of the schools.

The Corps plans to release its report by Tuesday, he said.

Mr. Jones wrote that he is ``extremely troubled'' by the Corps' decision to obtain a new access agreement from the school district before doing more work at the site.

Negotiating an agreement will slow down the investigation, Mr. Jones said.

Tom Shade, River Valley superintendent, said the school district had been operating under an interim agreement. The original pact expired in September.

Mr. Shade said he does not know why the Corps suddenly made it an issue.

``The state of Ohio will intervene if necessary to settle this matter,'' Mr. Jones wrote. ``Any delay only serves to undermine the integrity of this investigation and does a disservice to the public who have placed their trust in government.''

The Corps expects to have an agreement next week, Mr. Jasper said.

The Corps has committed at least $5 million to the investigation stage alone. But people are taking note of the financial and psychological impact on the school district.

Bob Haas, River Valley school board president, said this week the district has spent more than $30,000 for legal and consulting services. Mr. Shade said an updated figure will be released soon.

``We spent real money. To that extent, we have been damaged,'' Mr. Haas said.

Barry Serpa, a Westerville, O., resident who belongs to a citizens group called Concerned River Valley Families, said the district needs to weigh the costs of extending the probe against relocating the schools.

``Even though I'm not a resident of the district or a taxpayer [of it], I'm angry,'' Mr. Serpa said. His wife, Melanie, is a 1983 River Valley graduate who has had two bouts with Hodgkin's disease.

Officials recognize a problem at River Valley, even if they don't believe it is large enough to close the schools.

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