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Engineer corps to investigate Marion lab site

October 28, 1999
by T.C. Brown
Cleveland Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS -- A former Atomic Energy laboratory in Marion, a facility the government has long said was never opened, is now classified by the Department of Energy as being "used for activities in support of the nation's early atomic energy program."

The designation by the DOE gives the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the authority and the funds to open a formal investigation and to conduct a cleanup, if required, of the laboratory site on former corps property.

The lab was designed and constructed in the late 1940s to build nuclear weapons components.

Marion residents wonder if the former lab may have left radioactive contamination in the area. The lab is within five miles of Marion's River Valley middle and high schools, center of a leukemia-cluster investigation by federal and state agencies for two years.

The DOE's designation does not change the government's belief that the AEC facility, known as the Scioto Laboratory, was never opened, said Jane Greenwalt, a DOE spokeswoman.

"It has to be designated with certain terms so the corps can do survey and charteristic studies," Greenwalt said.

The DOE gave the corps the green light to investigate in an Oct. 19 letter from James J. Fiore, DOE's acting deputy assistant secretary, to William R. Augustine, deputy chief of program management at the corps headquarters in Washington.

In the letter, Fiore said historical research ". . . has concluded that this site was used for activites which supported the nation's early atomic energy program." The DOE's designation makes the former Scioto Laboratory a FUSRAP site - Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program.

The DOE's speedy qualification of the site comes on the heels of resident concerns and a request earlier this month by U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine to begin an immediate investigation.

The Scioto Laboratory was built as a backup for the Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio, and completely closed in 1954, according to government records. The Mound lab built nuclear triggers for early atomic bombs.

"The corps will do the survey and sampling of the site and do cleanup if necessary," Greenwalt said. "It's in the works."

Kevin Jasper, the Army Corps' Marion project manager, could not say yesterday when a survey of the site would begin.

Leukemia has jumped 122 percent in Marion in the last 30 years, with 151 residents dying from the disease, while leukemia rates around the state dropped.

Health investigators discovered nine cases of leukemia among high school graduates at River Valley, two miles east of Marion, from 1965 to 1996, where two cases would have been expected.