judge's ruling that Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency
wrongly removed the head of an investigation into
contamination at two schools shows that the agency can't be
trusted to enforce environmental laws, activists said
``Here we have a federal judge saying all the
things we've said on the record about the massive, ongoing
cover-up at the OEPA,'' said Simona Vaclavikova, program
director for Ohio Citizen Action.
Administrative law Judge Thomas F. Phalen Jr. ruled this
week that the state must reinstate Paul Jayko to his position
as site coordinator for the investigation at the River Valley
schools in Marion County, 40 miles north of Columbus.
Jayko was taken off that project in June 1998 and suspended
for 10 days after agency officials accused him of drinking
alcohol on the job and padding his expense account. His
attorney, Dennis Muchnicki, said Jayko was assigned to minor
projects and ``busy work.''
Phalen ruled that the allegations against Jayko were
unfounded and that he is protected under a federal
whistle-blower law. Besides back pay and damages, the agency
must also pay Jayko's attorney's fees and restore 30 days paid
vacation which Jayko had to take to appear in court.
Carol Hester, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA called Phalen's
ruling ``wrong'' and said the state will appeal.
``To use the whistle-blower law, you have to demonstrate
that there's been illegal activity on the part of the agency
that was reported by the employee,'' Hester said.
``There's no proof that there was any illegal activity. Mr.
Jayko made recommendations on what his thoughts were on what
we should sample for. Management made a different decision.
That's a professional difference of opinion,'' Hester said.
Marilyn Wall, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Ohio
Chapter called Phalen's ruling a ``stinging indictment'' of
the Ohio EPA.
She pointed to the judge's statements that the agency
misrepresented health threats to the public at River Valley
schools and told its employees to continue to give the message
that there was no evidence linking the sites to leukemia.
``This leads me to discredit the entire policy of the OEPA
management as such a misrepresentation of the Marion
investigation . . .'' Phalen wrote.
Jayko's reinstatement backs up activists' position that the
Ohio EPA has been lying to citizens about soil and water
contamination at River Valley schools, Wall said.
``Over and over, Paul Jayko tried to conduct a thorough
investigation of River Valley,'' she said. ``They criticized
him for committing things to writing they didn't want written