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  • Some skeptical of EPA tests showing River Valley air is safe

    Army Corps of Engineers conducting a separate study

    Saturday, September 04, 1999

    By Randall Edwards
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    A six-month investigation of outdoor air quality shows that the air at the River Valley school campus in Marion County is safe to breathe -- safer, in fact, than the air in most Ohio cities.

    The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency released the results yesterday. Early results from a second air study, by the Army Corps of Engineers, also indicate safe air on the school grounds.

    The two government agencies are looking into possible environmental causes for an unusually high number of leukemia cases among River Valley graduates.

    Independent environmental consultants hired by the school board will review the EPA's data before school officials comment, Superintendent Tom Shade said.

    Roxanne Krumanaker, the mother of a River Valley graduate who has leukemia, said the EPA's study is not sufficient because it measured the quality of the air above the school and not at a level at which students would breathe it.

    "We tried for a year-and-a-half to get proper air monitoring done, and all we get is monitoring up there where the birds are,'' Krumanaker said.

    The EPA's report was based on samples taken from February to July by a monitor placed on top of the middle school. The monitor detected small amounts of 24 toxins, including four carcinogens: benzene, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloride and dichloromethane.

    The four cancer-causing chemicals tested at levels below what federal regulations allow and well below levels found in most high-traffic urban areas, said Paul Koval, an EPA toxicologist.

    Combined exposure to the four carcinogens over a 70- year lifetime at levels found on the campus likely would create an excess cancer risk of 1.23 cases in 100,000 people. Excess cancer risk is a measure used by environmental scientists to show how a chemical could increase cancer risk above the risk created by nonenvironmental factors such as heredity and diet.

    River Valley graduates likely would be exposed to higher levels of these contaminants if they moved into larger cities after they graduate, Koval said.

    "This air has lower levels than most areas of the state,'' he said. "All of us have grown up with air like this.''

    The corps study is being conducted partly because of the complaints by parents that the EPA study was not conducted at "breathing-zone'' level. The corps has six monitors on the campus, including five in the breathing zone, said Todd Hornback, a corps spokesman.

    Several are located in areas where investigators have uncovered old waste pits used during World War II, when the land was host to an Army transportation depot. Tons of chemicals probably were dumped and burned or buried on the site during and after the war. The land was sold to the school district in the 1960s.

    The monitors have been in place since July and will be monitored at least through October, Hornback said.

    "From our review, the air-monitoring data shows no immediate threat to students or faculty,'' Hornback said.

    The corps, the EPA and other agencies continue to investigate contamination of the soil behind the schools. Extensive contamination has been found beneath athletic fields, now closed with rope barriers or fences.


    Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch