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Posted on Mon, Jun. 23, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
State EPA missing two years of pollution data
Former staff member failed to collect samples

Beacon Journal staff writer

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is red-faced over missing and falsified air-pollution data about the area near a hazardous-waste incinerator in eastern Ohio.

Opponents of the Von Roll America incinerator on the Ohio River in East Liverpool say the problem data -- from 2001 and 2002 -- is evidence that the state EPA cannot assure residents that the air around the facility is safe to breathe. They are seeking a federal criminal investigation.

The EPA says its analyses of air samples collected prior to 2001 and since November 2002 are similar and that means it is unlikely that residents of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania living near East Liverpool were exposed to unsafe levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic or cadmium during the time the data was missing or falsified.

The problems surround former EPA staff member Christy D'Amico, who was reprimanded for failure to perform her duties and reassigned late last year when the air-sampling problems were discovered. She resigned under pressure from the agency on June 13.

D'Amico was assigned to collect the air samples in East Liverpool in December 1998, after the state took over the sampling from the scandal-plagued North Ohio Valley Air Authority. The problems of that agency, which has been disbanded, were chronicled in a 1997 Beacon Journal investigation.

Earlier this year, the State Highway Patrol investigated D'Amico, a former EPA staff member of the year, for criminal wrongdoing, but no charges were filed, said EPA spokeswoman Patricia Madigan.

Madigan said D'Amico, an EPA technician, failed to properly collect samples in East Liverpool and falsified data in some cases.

Some data primarily for heavy metals and total particulates has been lost or discarded, Madigan said.

The EPA investigation found that in some cases filters were never installed to collect those metals and particulates, and the monitors had not been properly maintained.

Madigan said much of the 2001 East Liverpool air data handled by D'Amico has been ruled invalid because the samples failed to pass the Ohio EPA's quality-control standards.

In addition, much of the data from 2002 ``is simply missing or non-existent,'' Madigan said.

The state is not required to collect heavy metals and total particulate data under the federal Clean Air Act.

An automatic system records sulfur dioxide and large particulates, two air pollution problems that the state must monitor. That data mostly was not involved in D'Amico's case, Madigan said.

But state records indicate that a sensor to record sulfur dioxide levels in East Liverpool was found in the dirt, and no data was collected for several months. That would mean the state does not have backup evidence to document pollution levels.

Madigan said there is no evidence of problems with D'Amico's 1998, 1999 or 2000 samples from near the incinerator, formerly known as Waste Technologies Industries.

D'Amico's duties in Columbiana and Carroll counties included collecting filters from air sampling equipment and getting the filters to a laboratory for analysis.

The sampling equipment was designed to run for 24 hours and then shut off for five days. The technician was responsible for collecting and changing the filters while the machines were shut down.

Madigan said D'Amico's supervisors would ask her where the East Liverpool filters were and she'd say she had them at home or at her desk at the Von Roll plant.

D'Amico turned in a box of the used filters, the EPA said, but not all were there, and some were damaged and contaminated.

During the internal investigation, D'Amico said she had personal problems that spilled over into her work, Madigan said.

Efforts to contact D'Amico were unsuccessful.

The EPA finds the problems of missing and falsified data to be ``very troubling,'' said Madigan, an EPA deputy director.

The agency relies on such data collection to make sure that pollution limits are being met and to take enforcement action.

Incinerator opponents were upset at the news.

``Accurate air monitoring is the only way to ensure that Von Roll/WTI is not exceeding emission limits,'' said Terri Swearingen of the Tri-State Environmental Council. ``And now we have reason to believe there have been problems since the Ohio EPA took over monitoring in 1998.... How can the Ohio EPA say that Von Roll/WTI poses no risk? How can we trust anything the EPA says?''

Alonzo Spencer of East Liverpool's Save Our County, a grass-roots group fighting the incinerator, called for the 10-year-old, $160 million facility to be shut down until a criminal investigation is conducted by an independent, outside source.


Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com
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