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Published: Monday, 7/27/2009

Ohio may get $8 million for pollution cleanups

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The federal stimulus package includes $200 million more to address one of America's most pervasive environmental problems: underground storage tanks that leak gasoline and other petroleum products.

Ohio has learned it is likely to get an additional $8 million for cleanups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is distributing the funds and overseeing the work, hasn't yet come up with a figure for Michigan, Karen Thompson, a spokesman for the agency's Midwest regional office in Chicago, said.

The money will be in addition to $1.6 million that Ohio and Michigan each normally get for such work, she said.

Cleanups typically involve the removal of tanks that have leaked petroleum and other hazardous material into soil. Many pollutants often seep through the dirt and into groundwater before crews arrive.

Although cities such as Toledo use Lake Erie as their primary source of drinking water, the U.S. EPA said that a third of all Americans rely on groundwater. Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, are among the largest Ohio cities that do.

Petroleum products have benzene, toluene, and other substances known to cause cancer or other health problems, including brain, heart, and lung damage.

Young children are especially vulnerable. A mere gallon of gasoline ruins as much as a million gallons of groundwater, according to the U.S. EPA.

Cleanups may involve digging up contaminated soil and disposing of it at a hazardous-waste landfill. Or the contaminated soil may be contained in such a manner that the pollution eventually degrades over a number a years without spreading.

The cost for addressing each site varies.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has cited $125,000 as an average figure. Some sites, though, can cost $1 million or more to fix.

Factors include the severity of pollution and the amount of research that needs to be done. Abandoned sites often require more research, officials have said.

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the stepped-up program will provide "immediate growth opportunities for communities across the nation, as well as long-term protection from dangerous pollution in the land and water."

Ohio's program is administered by its Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations, part of the state fire marshal's office.

Shane Cartmill, state fire marshal spokesman, said Ohio officials met Friday to begin preliminary discussions of where the additional money could be spent.

More details will become available after the state signs a cooperative agreement with the federal government this month, according to the U.S. EPA. The agreement outlines the government's rules for the money.

"Right now, we're in a drafting stage. We're not at the point of identifying which sites yet," Mr. Cartmill said, explaining that the state will be soliciting proposals from contractors soon.

Mr. Cartmill said the additional money will "make an impact" by accelerating efforts to restore sites.

"We're in kind of uncharted territory with this money," Mr. Cartmill said.

He said the state may be able to move more rapidly on abandoned sites, for example.

According to state bureau records, Lucas County has 145 sites awaiting cleanup.

Wood County has 53. Seneca County has 39, Ottawa and Sandusky counties both have 26, Fulton County has 21, and Henry County has 17.

Ohio has a backlog of 2,838 sites that have never been addressed. That's down from 3,460 in 2006.

But it's still 10 percent of all known releases, according to a recent U.S. EPA survey, putting Ohio in a tie with Delaware and Massachusetts for the 36th worst cleanup pace.

Michigan is third worst, carrying a backlog of 9,155 unaddressed sites. That's 42 percent of all Michigan sites ever known to have a spill and up slightly from 9,082 open cases in 2006.

Florida is the nation's worst. It has a staggering backlog of 14,527 sites, with 56 percent of all known releases never having been addressed.

Money for such cleanups comes from the government's Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund that was established in 1986.

A tax of 0.1 cent has been collected on every gallon of gasoline, diesel fuel, and other motor fuels sold in the United States - an extra penny for every 10-gallon fill-up.

Michigan and Ohio typically generate $7 million apiece for the fund while getting back $1.6 million each.

The fund has been operating at a surplus for years, with about $73 million released annually.

Groups such as the Sierra Club have long questioned why money was being held back.

Problems associated with leaking underground storage tanks first gained national attention from the December, 1983, airing of a 60 Minutes television segment.

It chronicled how leaking tanks were affecting the health of Rhode Island residents.

The broadcast led to congressional passage of a 1984 law that addressed the hidden perils.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that President Obama signed into law on Feb. 17 called for the additional $200 million to be released from the trust fund this year.

For more information about the act, go to www.recovery.gov.

For information about recovery programs involving the U.S. EPA, go to www.epa.gov/recovery.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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