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Published: Thursday, 5/1/2008

Postponed cleanup results in frustration

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Shane Steele and his son, Mason, 5, walk around the former beryllium plant near Luckey that has been shuttered for decades. Shane Steele and his son, Mason, 5, walk around the former beryllium plant near Luckey that has been shuttered for decades.
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LUCKEY - Federal officials aren't sure when they'll be able to begin cleaning up the toxic materials poisoning the soil and ground water at the former Brush Wellman plant in Wood County, but the cleanup isn't happening soon enough for the people who live nearby.

From 1949 to 1958, the 40-acre site in Troy Township just outside of the village of Luckey was a production facility for Brush Beryllium Co., which became Brush Wellman Engineered Materials. It moved to Elmore in 1958.

Some of the beryllium metal produced there was used to make components for nuclear weapons.

Years later it was determined the site was contaminated with the toxic materials produced there, some of it buried at the facility.

The beryllium, lead, and uranium the Army Corps of Engineers found in the ground was also found in the water that flows beneath the site.

Luckey Mayor Belinda Brooks said yesterday the Corps of Engineers previously said it would begin cleaning the site in 2006, but opted instead to clean another site in New York, saying it would clean the Luckey site in 2010.

On Tuesday, Corps of Engineers officials said they aren't sure when they will begin decontaminating the Luckey site, but said their clean-up plan, which will cost an estimated $59 million, won't be ready for congressional review until 2010.

"That's subject to the availability of funds," said Tim Byrnes, Luckey site manager for the Corps of Engineers. "We had made mention some time in the past as far back as 2006 that 2010 is the date, but as of now based upon the President's budget, we will probably be completing design and being prepared for the remedy."

The office of U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said yesterday that money can't be appropriated to clean up the site until the Corps of Engineers submits its report to Congress.

"They're the ones in charge of this," said David Popp, Mr. Latta's press secretary. "We will work for them in whatever capacity needed until there's a plan. We can't appropriate money for fictitious projects."

Luckey's residents get their drinking water from individual wells.

Brad Espen, director of environmental health for the Wood County Health Department, was frustrated with the news the Army Corps may not begin cleaning the site in 2010.

"We need to get this site cleaned up. I'm tired of delays," he said.

Shane Steele has lived across the street from the former Brush Wellman plant since about 2001 with his wife Myranda and their two young boys.

He said he was aware of the contamination when he moved in, but had his water checked for contaminants at that time.

"I think there should be some accountability for whoever put it there," he said. "Obviously, I have safety concerns. People should take care of their own mess."

Mr. Byrnes said the Corps of Engineers has wells it samples on the site and surrounding it. He said testing indicates contamination has not migrated off the property.

"Based on our results we believe we can reasonably assure that's not going to happen," he said. "Our fail-safe is we are testing the wells on a yearly basis to make sure that isn't happening."

The test wells were sampled last year and will be tested again in the next few months.

Mayor Brooks said surface water at the Brush Wellman site empties into a creek that flows northeast away from Luckey, but that doesn't mean contamination can't reach the village's residents.

"They were supposed to start cleaning this in 2006," she said. "They can always find another site to put above us. How can we make that not happen in 2010?"

Mr. Espen said local government officials may be powerless in that regard.

"It's a federal project," he said. "We can hold meetings, talk to our legislators, and we've been doing that for years to no avail," he said. "Typically, local jurisdictions cannot sue the federal government."

Mr. Byrnes said the plan to clean the Luckey site includes removing the contaminated soil and disposing of it in an appropriate facility.

With the contaminated soil removed, the ground water eventually should become free of contaminants, he said.

The Corps of Engineers plans to monitor the wells for as long as it takes to reach levels safe enough to drink. "Safety of the people is our highest priority," Mr. Byrnes said.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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