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Posted at 2:52 p.m. EST Saturday, January 13, 2001

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Professor unsure of cause for school leukemia cases

MARION, Ohio (AP) -- An Ohio State University professor said scientists are unable to determine whether exposure to pollutants at the River Valley school complex near Marion caused a high incidence of leukemia cases in the area.

``We don't know and we can't definitively rule out whether any of those exposures might have in some way contributed to the development,'' said Deborah L. Gray, a clinical associate professor at Ohio State's School of Public Health.

River Valley's middle school and high school were built in 1962 on 78 acres where the military used to burn or bury tons of highly toxic chemicals.

A federal and state investigation of the schools began in 1997 because of concerns about an unusually high number of graduates with leukemia. Leukemia has not been linked to chemical contamination found at the school site.

The school district plans to build new schools away from the current middle and high school. The school board is expected to select three sites later this month from six now under consideration.

The scheduled date of completion for two new elementary schools and a new middle and high school complex is August 2003. Gray said that until then, the middle and high schools will be closely monitored to ensure the health of students.

``Our response is 'Yes, it's safe to have school as long as we manage exposures,''' she said. ``And that means restricting access to areas that we know are contaminated. ... That means continuing to monitor what is in the air.''

Gray studied the River Valley site when she worked as a toxicologist for Metcalf & Eddy, an engineering firm hired by the school district.

She said contamination at the site was not fully documented until 1998, adding, ``There may be people ... who have yet to manifest some sort of disease'' because of their exposure to chemicals at the site.

Mike Griffith, who removed his son from the River Valley schools about a year into the state's environmental investigation, said he was concerned by Gray's remarks on student safety.

``Officials have never gone there. The Ohio EPA has said, 'We will never know.' How are you erring on the side of safety when you keep schoolchildren in that situation?'' he said.

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