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State inquiry to check tests at Marion site

September 23, 1999

MARION, O. - The Ohio Department of Health plans to do an internal audit of last year's radiation testing procedures at the River Valley campus near Marion, as well as hire an outside investigator to take an independent look.

These investigations mean three are being performed in the wake of allegations that area residents may have been misled intentionally about the safety of the site. Last week, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the allegations are being checked out by officials from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.

The testing procedures are being reviewed because of issues raised by Jed Ball, a free-lance radiation and health physics technician from Mount Ulla, N.C. Mr. Ball was hired on a short-term basis by a subcontractor, Safety and Ecology Corp. of Knoxville, Tenn., and worked at the Marion site.

Mr. Ball said yesterday that procedures were designed to prevent technicians from finding anything.

Documents were forged. Samples were diluted. Testing was performed in wet weather, which shielded radiation from being detected. And workers were not allowed to post red flags if they came across anything, according to Mr. Ball.

"They wouldn't let us, because they thought it would look bad to the public," he said.

He said he believes the tests were a sham, based on what a supervisor for the subcontractor said shortly after technicians arrived on the scene.

"His exact words were: 'You're not going to find anything here. You're here as window dressing to make the public feel safe,' " Mr. Ball said.

He said the comments were made in the presence of a representative from the corps and from Montgomery Watson, the corps' chief contractor at the site.

Lisa Plauger, spokeswoman for Safety and Ecology Corp., said the company is not making any comments about Mr. Ball's allegations.

She referred calls to Jeff LeBlanc, Montgomery Watson spokesman. Mr. LeBlanc was not available for comment yesterday. No other Montgomery Watson officials would comment.

Kevin Jasper, corps spokesman, has said the Army is taking the matter seriously and that he will not respond to specific allegations.

Mr. Ball initially took his allegations to state and federal regulators, via electronic mail messages. Several of his comments were read aloud by an Ohio Department of Health official at a public meeting in the River Valley High School cafeteria in August, after being sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Randy Hertzer, Ohio Department of Health spokesman, said his agency has begun its own investigation and is in the process of hiring an outside investigator.

A timetable has not been established, but the investigations will proceed quickly. "It is a priority," Mr. Hertzer said.

Upon advice from their attorneys, school officials ha an inde pendent radiological survey per formed shortly after the allega tions were made public.

That survey, performed by Metcalf & Eddy of Ohio, Inc., was completed Sept. 10. It showed no usual levels of radiation.

River Valley's high school/middle school campus was once part of the Marion Engineering Depot, the government's largest military warehouse of its kind during World War II.

A number of cancers have been reported in the region, prompting officials to look at the site, which is 100 miles southeast of Toledo.

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