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Report: Air pollution samples near incinerator missing

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio (AP) -- More than a year's worth of federally required air pollution samples were lost, mishandled and even fabricated from the community surrounding a hazardous waste incinerator, environmental officials say.

There is, however, no indication from readings taken before or since the period when the samples were lost or tainted that the air was unsafe around the Von Roll Waste Technologies Industries incinerator itself, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says.

Still, opponents who have fought the plant, which opened in 1992 near homes and an elementary school across the Ohio River from Chester, W.Va., say they're not happy.

White smoke from the incinerator's stack glides across the blue-collar region where Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia meet.

"They've been telling us for years that this is the most heavily monitored and scrutinized facility in the country,'' said Teresa Mills, director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, an advocacy group. "Where's the proof?''

In 1991, hundreds of people, including many from West Virginia's Hancock County, protested against the proposal to build the incinerator, then called Waste Technologies Industries. The incinerator burns up to 60,000 tons of waste a year.

An EPA investigation found that its employee Christine D'Amico, who was responsible for the pollution monitors in Columbiana County, failed to properly maintain the monitors and regularly collect the results. Supervisors began sending D'Amico e-mails last summer asking why she hadn't submitted any samples for the year.

D'Amico replied that she was behind in processing the samples. She resigned June 13.

The missing and tainted samples from late 2001 through 2002 were from general air monitors scattered throughout East Liverpool. The state is required to report soot and metal readings, including airborne mercury levels.

Without results from the surrounding county for comparison, the agency said, the samples from the incinerator site itself are meaningless.

"There probably was not an air quality problem in Columbiana County during this period because the ‘before' and ‘after' numbers are so similar,'' EPA spokeswoman Patricia Madigan said.

Separate monitors show the plant has been in compliance for the last couple of years although the monitors measure different pollutants, she said.

The disclosure comes at a time when the state is considering whether to renew the plant's environmental permits.

During the 1992 election campaign, vice presidential candidate Al Gore suggested the incinerator should be shut down. But once elected, the Clinton administration said there were no legal grounds to block it. The issue dogged Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Mills said the problem should have been discovered sooner.

"There should have been all kinds of bells and whistles from the Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA,'' she said.

AP-ES-06-21-03 2145EDT

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