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Radiation tester says findings at Marion site were doctored

Saturday, August 28, 1999

By Bill Bush
Dispatch Staff Reporter

  • An investigator says supervisors returned altered reports for him and others to re-sign.

    A worker hired to test radiation levels last year on the grounds of River Valley High School near Marion charges that the Army Corps of Engineers manipulated results to make it appear nothing was out of the ordinary.

    "I thought they actually wanted to look for something,'' said Jed Ball of Mount Ulla, N.C., who said he spent four weeks at the school site in June 1998.

    "Our job is basically to do our best to find any radiation, and when they don't let you do that, it is somewhat frustrating.''

    Ball worked for a company that subcontracted to do testing in Marion.

    The site, a former Army depot, is being studied because of a higher- than-normal rate of leukemia among students. No cause for the leukemia has been found.

    Ball said radiation levels were found that exceeded surrounding areas, but they were averaged with lower readings so they seemed normal.

    He also said supervisors gave back altered reports for him and other investigators to re-sign.

    "We were told from the time we got there, 'You will not find any radioactive contamination on this site anywhere.' '' Ball said. "It wasn't directed as an observation, it was directed as an order.''

    Ken Crawford, a civilian public- relations specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, Ky., said the corps is confident that every procedure used during the radiation screening was correct.

    The corps, however, said it will hire an independent agency to review how the tests were conducted.

    "We had somebody on site making sure that things were done right,'' Crawford said. "The contractor, Mason-Hangar, had somebody on site making sure that their people and the subcontractors did the right thing. We hired a specialist to do quality control.''

    But some Marion residents want an investigation into how the tests are being conducted after allegations of wrongdoing from the second whistle-blower to work on an environmental evaluation of the site. The first was Paul Jayco, formerly the site coordinator with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

    "Where in the chain of command do orders not to find anything originate?'' asked Mike Griffith, a parent from Marion, who said the corps cannot be trusted to investigate itself. He wants the U.S. Justice Department or Ohio inspector general to launch a probe.

    "The ultimate issue at stake is not just if there is or is not radiation still to be found,'' Griffith said. "The real issue is the credibility of the entire investigation.

    "If testing and results are being manipulated regarding radiation, how can we have confidence in the soil testing? Air monitoring? Ground- water monitoring?''

    Ball, who said he has been in the radiation-monitoring business for nine years, first tried reporting his concerns to the U.S. EPA last fall, but was told to report them to the state EPA. He was called away on another job, and didn't do so until this week.

    River Valley Local Superintendent Thomas Shade said the district will not end classes because of the recent allegations.

    "Clearly, we have no evidence that these allegations are true, so we need to press on with the investigation,'' he said.

    Dispatch Staff Reporter Jill Riepenhoff contributed to this story.


    Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch