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Ohio Schools Moving From Toxic Site

May 19, 2000

MARION, Ohio (AP) _ Two schools built on a site contaminated with rusted barrels of cancer-causing chemicals would be rebuilt elsewhere under a preliminary agreement announced Friday.

The state, the Army Corps of Engineers and River Valley Local Schools also agreed in principle to develop the Marion County campus for industrial use.

``When you look at this at all sides, this is the cost-effective argument and the best way to go. To clean it up and maintain the school is too costly,″ River Valley Schools Superintendent Tom Shade said.

The 78-acre campus in Marion, about 40 miles north of Columbus, was once home to a U.S. Army depot used as a dump for spent solvents and other chemical wastes. The schools, which have 850 students total, were built in 1962.

An investigation began after questions were raised about leukemia cases among the high school’s graduates.

Nearly 70 current and former Marion County residents were diagnosed with leukemia between 1992 and 1996, and the state health department last July confirmed nine cases among River Valley High graduates. No cause has been found.

Contamination was found below the soil, and some athletic fields were abandoned and fenced off two years ago. Authorities say they still believe the site _ other than the six acres of fenced-off areas _ is safe for students and school staff.

But Gov. Bob Taft said that after at least six months of discussions, officials concluded that building a new campus would be cheaper than cleaning up the site enough for the schools to stay.

``The soils have been investigated; they are clearly contaminated,″ he said. ``The school has already lost a significant part of its property for ballfields and play areas.″

English teacher Lisa Hollaway said Friday she has her doubts about the safety of the current site.

``We are getting mixed messages,″ Hollaway said. ``They tell us it’s safe, now they tell us we have to relocate. There must be something wrong if they’re making us move.″

The two schools were built on a portion of the former 640-acre Marion Engineering Depot where equipment was stored and repaired from World War II through the early 1960s. A nearby Ordnance Works made and stored bombs and ammunition. During the war, a prisoner-of-war camp also may have used pesticides and arsenic on POWs to get rid of lice.

Chris Jones, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency will continue to monitor the area while the students are on campus.

After the schools are moved, he said, it shouldn’t be difficult to get the site up to environmental standards for industrial use. No decision has been made on whether the school buildings themselves could be salvaged and used by industries.

Building new schools and cleaning the site would cost the Army Corps up to about $25 million for its share. Taft proposed that the state contribute about $4.7 million for the schools, with additional money for site redevelopment.

If the bond issue is approved in November, the new schools could open in August 2003, Shade said.

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