August 16, 2001
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EPA considers plan to remove toxins from river
Thursday, August 16, 2001
Dispatch Environment Reporter

Two years after federal officials dug up tons of toxic creosote from an abandoned wood-treatment plant near a Marion neighborhood, they're back trying to clean up what's left of the oily mess.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also is considering a $10 million plan to dredge creosote from the Little Scioto River, a source of drinking water for Marion and a tributary of the Scioto River, a source of drinking water for Columbus.

Rows of contaminated soil, spread out in an area the size of two football fields, are being treated with bacteria at the former Baker Wood Products site.

EPA officials decided to continue using the technology, known as bioremediation, after detecting low levels of suspected cancer-causing chemicals in soil and water samples at the site.

"All of the highly concentrated wastes are gone or are being treated,'' said Mark Durno, the EPA's site coordinator. "By this time next year, direct contact with soil at the site shouldn't be a threat.''

Scientists and environmentalists have known for years about the pollution problems at Baker Wood, a now-defunct company that treated railroad ties and other products from the 1890s to the 1960s. But little was done until the late 1990s, when state and federal agencies began investigating high rates of leukemia among graduates of River Valley High School near Marion.

Although high levels of pollution have been detected throughout the area, the leukemia cases haven't been linked to specific causes.

At the abandoned Baker Wood site, the pollutants of concern are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a group of chemicals suspected of causing cancer that are commonly found in tar and petroleum-based wastes.

Contractors hired by the EPA removed more than 3,500 tons of contaminated soil from the site two years ago and shipped it to a hazardous-waste landfill in Michigan.

Tests later detected more contamination than previously thought. But changes in federal regulations prevented the agency from sending more of the oily muck to a landfill, prompting the use of bioremediation to treat the remaining waste.

Though there is no evidence that creosote from Baker Wood has contaminated drinking water supplies for Marion and Columbus, the Ohio Department of Health recommends that people not swim, wade or fish in the Little Scioto.

Dredging the river is a controversial option because it potentially could stir up the contamination. However, the river's problems are bad enough that some biologists have suggested the most polluted stretch should be relocated and the excavated dirt used to bury the polluted sediment.

mhawthorne@dispatch.com


 
     
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