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  • EPA appeals decision to reinstate worker

    Saturday, February 10, 2001

    Michael Hawthorne
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency yesterday appealed a court decision that allowed an agency whistle-blower to keep fighting for his job as supervisor of a controversial pollution probe.

    Three legal decisions agree that Paul Jayko was illegally transferred from his job as lead investigator of toxic contamination found around the River Valley schools outside Marion.

    Attorneys for the state and Jayko have been discussing a settlement. But the U.S. Department of Labor contends that the EPA broke seven employment laws when it pulled Jayko from the investigation in 1998.

    With no agreement in sight, the EPA decided to appeal the latest decision favoring Jayko to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The state faced a Monday deadline to file an appeal or accept a ruling that ordered the EPA to publicly apologize to Jayko, return him to his Marion assignment, pay him $138,000 in lost pay and damages, and reimburse his legal fees.

    "We still hope to reach a settlement in this case that's acceptable to all the parties,'' EPA spokeswoman Carol Hester said.

    Jayko wrote several internal memos that sharply criticized the agency's response to an unusually high number of leukemia cases detected among graduates in 1997.

    River Valley is on the site of a former military depot where chemical waste was dumped for years.

    After Jayko began expressing his frustration in memos, many of which were reported by The Dispatch and other media outlets, the EPA suspended him for 10 days and moved him to the Bowling Green office.

    EPA officials said they punished Jayko for drinking two beers before a public meeting. But a federal administrative law judge ruled last year that the action was groundless and amounted to retaliation for the memos.

    Events disputed in the Jayko case occurred during former Gov. George Voinovich's tenure in office, when Don Schregardus headed the EPA.

    Gov. Bob Taft and Christopher Jones, the EPA director, have made the River Valley investigation a priority. Most of the tests and recommendations Jayko urged his bosses to conduct have been done, Jones said.

    "People keep saying we're hiding something,'' he said. "I'm not aware of any document this agency has that hasn't been made available to the public.''

    Dennis Muchnicki, Jayko's attorney, could not be reached for comment. He has said the only way the state can regain its credibility in Marion is by bringing his client back. "For this to be a thorough investigation, Paul has to be involved with it,'' Muchnicki has said. "As long as he's not included, (residents) will always assume something is wrong.''

    Marion voters approved a tax levy in November that will help pay for construction of a new middle and high school at a different site by 2003.

    The EPA and federal officials say the existing campus is safe, but some want the schools closed immediately.

    mhawthor@dispatch.com




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