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  • Immunity offered to depot workers

    Saturday, October 7, 2000

    Tom Sheehan
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    Former workers afraid to risk their pensions and prosecution if they talked about job-related tasks that might have led to contamination at the old Marion Engineering Depot and the nearby Scioto Ordnance Plant are safe, federal officials said yesterday.

    The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Army Corps of Engineers have reached an understanding that workers will not be prosecuted for activities that occurred before those Marion facilities closed.

    The former workers also will not risk federal pensions, corps spokesman Todd Hornback said.

    "We had been told people were afraid if they came forward, their pensions might be affected,'' Hornback said yesterday.

    He said the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has told the corps that pensions would not be affected if former employees talk to authorized government representatives.

    "We want more information,'' Hornback said. "We want them to tell us what was there and what they did.''

    Hornback said although a number of former workers already have been interviewed, new information could be helpful.

    There is a restriction to the agreement -- if anyone comes forward and it is later discovered they have lied to federal investigators, they could be prosecuted, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bauer said.

    The corps began its investigation of toxic contamination on the former Marion Engineering Depot more than three years ago after citizens raised concerns about a high rate of leukemia among graduates of River Valley High School.

    The high school and its adjacent middle school were built on about 78 acres of the 640-acre site east of Marion.

    Chemical waste was dumped at the depot for years before it closed in the early 1960s, and investigators are trying to determine the health impact.

    State and federal officials think health risks are minimal, but some residents and others think the students should be relocated immediately.

    Federal investigators also want to know whether there was any activity involving radioactive materials at the old Scioto Ordnance Plant, a wartime site a few miles north of the depot.

    The U.S. Department of Energy is involved in that investigation.

    Fear of retribution "was a legitimate concern that some former workers have,'' Jeff Steers, an official with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Bowling Green office, said yesterday.

    "Until that was resolved, we can't say we have done all we could to interview former workers,'' he said.

    Earlier this year, the state EPA criticized the thoroughness of the interviews conducted by the corps and said it would interview former workers, too.

    Steers said the Ohio EPA interviewed 22 people. He said he is hopeful more former workers will come forward now.

    The corps has set up a toll-free line for workers to use: 800-527- 4636.


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch