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  • EPA whistle-blower praised in Marion

    Army representatives said they could not report yet what was found because results aren't complete.

    Friday, March 23, 2001

    Tom Sheehan
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    MARION, Ohio -- Last night was a homecoming of sorts for Paul Jayko.

    But there were no balloons, confetti or brass bands.

    Instead, there were just some congratulatory handshakes and well wishes for the man who was removed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as its chief investigator of toxic contamination at River Valley schools and who just last month was reinstated after a long legal battle.

    Jayko sat in the audience during a meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board, a group of citizens and government officials who are reviewing contamination issues at River Valley and elsewhere in Marion.

    Before the meeting, Jayko said he has been spending time catching up on the investigation.

    "I've been doing that for the past couple of weeks,'' he said. "I'll need a few more weeks to get up to speed.

    "I do have other projects I'm working on in northern Ohio. The Marion issues will be added to my workload,'' he said.

    Jayko said he didn't want to talk about how the River Valley investigation has progressed during his absence.

    His run-in with state EPA officials began in 1998 when he criticized the agency in memos and in his daily journal for its lax approach to the River Valley contamination.

    An investigation had been started in 1997 at the high school and middle school because of an unusually high number of leukemia cases among graduates. The schools were built on a former military depot where chemical waste was dumped for years.

    Jayko had called for more testing to ensure the safety of the 800 students, but then the investigation began to stall. When one of his more scathing memos became public, Jayko was suspended on charges that he had been drinking before a meeting, and he was pulled off the River Valley assignment.

    Jayko had filed for federal whistle-blower protection before his suspension, and a legal battle ensued, with three court rulings saying that the EPA broke employment laws involving Jayko and that the agency had retaliated against him. Last month, the agency and Jayko reached a settlement, which included putting him back on the River Valley investigation.

    "What we're doing right now is bringing Paul back into the team,'' Graham Mitchell, chief of the EPA's Office of Federal Facilities Oversight, told the board. "He's in the process of reviewing documents.''

    River Valley resident Mike Griffith, speaking at the end of the meeting, praised Jayko.

    "I first wanted to recognize Paul Jayko for the long arduous path he had to take'' to get back into the River Valley investigation, Griffith said. "There are people here that recognize you for that.''

    Earlier in the meeting, the board was told that 51 areas were tested late last year on the 127-acre U.S. Army Reserve training site adjacent to the two schools and that the results are being evaluated.

    Several members of the board questioned why the process is taking so long, particularly in areas that already were identified as dump sites and that might have significant TCE, or chemical trichloroethylene contamination.

    "What are you pulling out of these primary dump sites?'' asked board co-chairman Don Millard.

    Army representatives said they could not report yet what was found because results aren't complete. They also said the process of releasing information would come after they finish a draft study and submit it to the state EPA for review.

    River Valley, a 1,700-student district east of Marion, plans to build a new high school and middle school on a different site by August 2003 with a combination of state, federal and local money.

    tsheehan@dispatch.com




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    Copyright 2001, The Columbus Dispatch