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Leukemia-cluster reports draw inspectors to Marion

Saturday, October 16, 1999

By T.C. BROWN
PLAIN DEALER BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A former Atomic Energy laboratory designed to build nuclear weapons components was inspected by federal and state officials this week, days after the concerns of Marion residents surfaced in published reports.

The plant, which the government says was built in the late 1940s but never opened, is five miles north of River Valley middle and high schools in Marion County. The schools have been at the center of a Marion-area leukemia-cluster investigation for two years.

The inspection was conducted by officials from the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. It is the DOE's first-ever site inspection of the Atomic Energy Commission plant, once known as the Scioto Laboratory, said Jane Greenwalt, a department spokeswoman.

The DOE was responding to information provided by people living near the plant, she said.

"We want to do the right thing and be a good neighbor," Greenwalt said. "We want to make sure nothing is there."

The DOE will now work out a plan to conduct a radiation survey of the laboratory, Greenwalt said. The lab, designed as a backup for the Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio, was constructed to build nuclear triggers for atomic bombs. The plant was constructed by the Monsanto Chemical Co., which also was hired to run the lab.

"We will do a scan and make sure there is no immediate danger," Greenwalt said.

The DOE will work with the Army Corps to get federal funding for a more in-depth analysis later, Greenwalt said.

"That would give the corps the go-ahead to do extensive sampling to see if the site needed any remediation," Greenwalt said.

Limited surveys done by the Army Corps in 1995 showed no radioactive contamination but not all of the grounds was checked, according to records.

Calls seeking comment from the Army Corps yesterday were not returned.

Sen. Mike DeWine last week asked the DOE to begin an immediate investigation of the site to determine if it posed health and safety risks.

Government agencies have been testing soil, air and water in Marion for two years, hoping to find out why so many residents are contracting leukemia - a type of cancer sometimes linked to radiation exposure.

Leukemia has jumped 122 percent in Marion in the last 30 years, with 151 residents dying from the disease. Leukemia cases in Ohio have fallen during the same period. And since 1992, 68 new leukemia cases have been diagnosed.

Numerous residents told government investigators about their fears of radioactive contamination. The DOE searched its records but didn't follow up because the documents indicated the laboratory was never opened.

The Atomic Commission laboratory was on a site of more than 1,200 acres on the grounds of the abandoned Scioto Ordnance Plant. The ordnance plant, on a 12,000-acre site, was opened to build bombs during World War II.

The Scioto Ordnance Plant site is across the road from the former Marion Engineer Depot, two miles east of the city, where the River Valley schools are located and where the investigation began.

Health investigators have discovered nine cases of leukemia among high school graduates from 1965 to 1996, where two would have been expected. The schools were built over and near former Army dumps.

E-mail: tcbrown@plaind.com Phone: (216) 999-4213

©1999 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.

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