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Posted at 5:52 p.m. EST Friday, January 5, 2001

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Feds back EPA investigator in cancer case

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- The U.S. government has stepped in on behalf of an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency investigator trying to regain his job in a chemical contamination case involving two central Ohio schools.

The Department of Labor's decision on Wednesday was necessary if Paul Jayko wants to be able to enforce an administrative law judge order that he be reinstated as site coordinator at River Valley schools near Marion. The agency said it agrees that the state broke seven whistleblower statutes by reassigning him.

``The Ohio EPA should be getting his desk ready so he's back on the job in Marion on Monday,'' E. Dennis Muchnicki, Jayko's lawyer, told The Blade for a story Friday.

OEPA spokeswoman Carol Hester said Friday that the agency is reviewing the decision and had not decided on its next move.

Jayko has argued he was removed because of questions he raised about the thoroughness of the investigation. He filed for protection under a federal whistleblower law, which protects government employees from retaliation when they speak out about possible violations of environmental laws.

The decision is part of a lawsuit the OEPA filed against the federal government. The agency has claimed it is immune from Jayko's complaints that it had discriminated against him.

The agency argued that individuals generally are prohibited from suing states. In a ruling in November, U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus agreed but said the federal government can take over the case for Jayko.

The lawsuit was filed after an administrative law judge ruled Oct. 2 that Jayko was illegally removed from the job in 1998. That judge, Thomas Phalen of Cincinnati, also ordered that Jayko be paid $138,000 in damages and lost wages.

Jayko has accused the OEPA of violating whistleblower laws by removing him as the coordinator at the schools, built on the site of a former military depot where chemical waste was dumped for years. State officials began their investigation in Marion after parents told Jayko about an unusually high number of leukemia cases among graduates of the high school.

The state has denied any wrongdoing.

Jayko continues to work as a site coordinator in the Bowling Green district office.

The federal government's action ``has renewed my faith that maybe the government will do the right thing on behalf of River Valley and Paul Jayko,'' said Mike Griffith, a geologist and member of an activist group called Concerned River Valley Families.

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