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  • Tests needed to verify accuracy of records on Marion lab

    Friday, October 29, 1999

    By Kevin Mayhood and Randall Edwards
    Dispatch Staff Reporters

    Testing will prove whether a laboratory in Marion County -- designed to build triggers for atomic bombs -- was ever used, a U.S. Department of Energy official said.

    Officials and consultants for the federal agency told Marion, Ohio, area residents last night that scanty and still-classified records indicate that the laboratory never processed radioactive materials.

    The laboratory, down to the names of the buildings, mirrored the Mound laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio.

    The Scioto Ordnance Laboratory was to be used, "in case of enemy attack or anything that would make Mound inoperable,'' said Jane Greenwalt, an Energy Department spokeswoman.

    The Energy Department is the fourth federal agency to become involved in the investigation into possible environmental problems in Marion and surrounding townships.

    The investigation began after a health study showed that a higher-than-expected number of graduates of River Valley High School east of Marion suffer from leukemia.

    Federal energy officials announced last night that the 1,200-acre tract formerly run by the Atomic Energy Commission qualifies for money through the Formerly Utilized Defense Sites Remedial Action Program.

    The program oversees cleanups of sites contaminated during the early days of the atomic-energy program.

    The replication of the Mound lab and the nearness of the Marion site -- about 110 miles from Miamisburg -- would allow the United States to continue to make what was the only component of early atomic bombs that could not be stockpiled, said Dick Neff, a consultant at Mound for 30 years.

    The bomb triggers were made with polonium, an element that after only a short time naturally lost the characteristics needed to start the nuclear reaction in the A-bomb, Neff said.

    Learning more about the Marion facility will take time, Energy Department officials said. They are trying to contact former workers at the site.

    Much of the information about what was there has been destroyed, and some of what remains must be obtained from classified documents.

    The department's work will piggyback onto environmental projects already under way.

    The Army Corps of Engineers has focused much of its attention on the River Valley schools campus, where it has removed tons of soil contaminated with arsenic from the drainage ditches surrounding the school.

    The Army Reserves have coordinated the investigation and removal of contaminated barrels from a reserve-training area west of the school. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has used federal Superfund money to clean up an abandoned creosote yard in Marion that was polluting the Little Scioto River.

    Kevin Jasper, who has been in charge of the Marion investigation for the Corps, said a 1994 survey of the site registered normal readings for radioactivity.

    The Scioto Ordnance Laboratory is on land that was part of the 12,000-acre Scioto Ordnance Plant. It was about 5 miles north of the River Valley campus, east of Marion.

    The lab was operated by Monsanto for the Atomic Energy Commission beginning in 1948. According to records, 62 workers were assigned to the lab. Half were for security.


    Copyright © 1999, The Columbus Dispatch