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Cancer-causing chemical found near schools

Saturday, January 27, 2001

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  • MARION - The latest round of soil sampling at River Valley Schools found isolated spots of a cancer-causing chemical at levels far above what is considered safe.

    Safety precautions are in place on the campus of the middle and high schools, said state environmental officials and the school district. But activists are calling again for students to be moved.

    "This is totally ridiculous," said Simona Vaclavikova, program director for Ohio Citizen Action. "They claim it’s safe and then they keep finding more and more contamination in different areas. It’s absurd."

    A federal and state investigation of the schools began in 1997 because of concerns about an unusually high number of graduates with leukemia. Leukemia has not been linked to chemical contamination found at the school site.

    The schools are scheduled to be closed when new ones are built elsewhere in time for the 2003-04 school year.

    Soil analyses given Thursday to the district’s Restoration Advisory Board, a group of community members who advise the Army Corps of Engineers in its cleanup efforts, show isolated "hits" of benzo-A-pyrene, a substance used in roofing and paving materials.

    Concentrations in some samples taken near the high school were 90 times the threshold for requiring an environmental cleanup, said Jeff Steers, assistant chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s northwest district office. That’s twice as high as the contamination found a year ago near the middle school, after which administrators closed off that area.

    The chemical can cause health problems if breathed or swallowed, so activities and sports that would kick up a lot of dirt are banned in the area where it was found, said Tom Shade, superintendent of River Valley Schools. Teachers won’t be allowed to have outdoor classes at the site, nor may students eat lunch there.

    ©2001 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.


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