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  • State EPA pushes for river cleanup

    Friday, July 7, 2000

    Michael Hawthorne
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    High levels of toxic sediment in the Little Scioto River are prompting state officials to recommend a thorough cleanup of one of Ohio's most polluted waterways.

    A biological survey released yesterday by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found concentrations of chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, in a 6-mile stretch of the river just downstream from where Marion gets some of its drinking water.

    It's unclear whether the added attention will lead to a solution to the Little Scioto's problems, which scientists, environmentalists and area residents have known about for years. The report did not identify a source of money for the cleanup or estimate the cost.

    Some of the chemicals, commonly found in tar and petroleum-based waste, have caused cancer in laboratory animals. PAHs can damage internal organs and cause dizziness, nausea, skin rashes and headaches.

    "At some points in the river, the creosote sediment is 2 feet thick,'' said Heather Lauer, an EPA spokeswoman.

    Tests show the city's water supply is safe, but the Ohio Department of Health recommends that people should not swim, wade or fish in the Little Scioto.

    State officials studied the area's streams as part of an extensive environmental investigation prompted by the discovery of high rates of leukemia in Marion. The leukemia cases have not been linked to specific causes.

    While the Marion probe focused on toxic troubles at River Valley high and middle schools, built on the site of a former military-supply depot, a series of studies have detected high levels of pollution throughout the area.

    Of the 62.6 miles of Marion-area streams assessed, 67 percent were of poor or very poor quality. These include small streams near the River Valley campus, but investigators did not find any link between the old depot property and the pollution of area streams.

    State officials have long been concerned about the Little Scioto because it provides some of Marion's drinking water and flows into the Scioto River -- a source of drinking water for Columbus.

    In addition to the Little Scioto, biologists recommended removal of "significant'' PAH-contaminated sediment in Sawyer Lake in the city's southwest corner.

    Moreover, they called for more study to determine the source of toxic levels of ammonia found in Goose Creek, a small waterway on the city's northwest side, and of cancer-causing PCBs detected in the headwaters of Qu Qua Creek.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrapped up a $400,000 emergency cleanup last year of Baker Wood Products, an abandoned lumber-preservation yard on the west side of Marion that is thought to have caused some of the damage to the river.

    Contractors hauled away 3,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with creosote left behind when the company was shut down. Some of the oily muck had more than 100,000 parts per million of PAHs.

    Finding money to clean the stream has been difficult, but the Ohio EPA might ask the General Assembly for funding in its next budget request, Lauer said. Many of the companies that dumped the pollution are out of business.

    "This problem needs to be taken seriously,'' said Jeff Skelding, water-quality manager for the Ohio Environmental Council.

    Dredging is a controversial option because it stirs up the contamination. But 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 contaminated sediments.


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch