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  • Radiation subject of 2 investigations

    Wednesday, September 08, 1999

    By Randall Edwards
    Dispatch Environment Reporter

    The Army Criminal Investigation Command will look into allegations of a cover-up by a subcontractor involved in a radiation survey at River Valley Schools near Marion, Ohio.

    At the same time, the Ohio Department of Health will hire a consultant to conduct an independent evaluation of the radiation work on the campus, state officials announced yesterday.

    The Army agency will investigate possible criminal charges, while the Health Department will try to determine whether the results of the survey -- which found no unusual radiation levels on the campus -- are reliable.

    "Our first concern is to know whether we've got compromised results,'' said Ruth Vandergrift, a spokeswoman for the Health Department.

    Vandergrift said the Army Corps of Engineers will pay for the independent review but will not be involved in selecting the consultant.

    The Health Department has requested the corps' records, and Vandergrift said she hopes to begin conducting interviews in October.

    The investigations were triggered by an e- mail message that was sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

    The EPA forwarded the message to the Health Department, which has authority over radiation investigations.

    In the message, Jed Ball of Ulla, N.C., told state officials that supervisors told him that he would not find any radiation on the grounds of River Valley high school and middle school east of Marion.

    Ball, who worked for a civilian subcontractor hired by the corps to survey for radiation, also said reports were doctored to make it appear as though there were no unusual radiation levels on the campus.

    The corps and other state and federal agencies are investigating environmental contami nation on the campus. The schools were built atop a World War II Army transportation depot, and the investigation has revealed that a portion of the grounds was used as a dump for spent solvents and other chemical wastes.

    Ball said yesterday that an Army investigator visited him Friday.

    "He said this situation was being reviewed by people at the highest levels of the Army,'' Ball said.

    Ball said he spent four weeks at the site as a temporary employee of Safety and Ecology Corp. Ball said someone for that company told him the surveyors were "window dressing.''

    No one from the company returned phone calls yesterday.

    Safety and Ecology Corp., a well-known radiation survey company, was hired because of its expertise in finding radiation contamination, said Jeffrey J. LeBlanc, a hydrogeologist with Montgomery Watson, the primary contractor investigating the campus.

    No one from Montgomery Watson discouraged survey technicians from reporting radiation, LeBlanc said.

    "Actually, we hired them because we thought we could find something,'' LeBlanc said.

    An earlier survey by the Health Department had uncovered a small, dime-sized disc painted with radium buried in the front lawn of the school.

    The disc, which was probably used as some sort of military marker, is the only source of radiation found on the site.

    Marion citizens concerned about the con tamination aren't satisfied with yesterday's announcement.

    "I'm skeptical of anything that the Army does to investigate itself,'' said Mike Griffith, a River Valley parent.

    "This is the pattern of behavior that we've seen throughout this whole investigation.''


    Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch