Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
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Environmental cleanup begins on highly toxic site in Wood County

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    Workers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are cleaning beryllium contamination other toxins on an area of about 40-acres.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • LUCKEY20-4

    Cleanup of contamination from beryllium and other toxins is conducted by the Army Corps on about 40 acres located just outside Luckey, Ohio.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • LUCKEY20-7

    A worker with the Army Corps of Engineers, walks through an area in protective gear as crews deal with contamination from beryllium and other toxins on an area of about 40-acres at 21200 Luckey Rd. just outside Luckey, Ohio. Beryllium and other contaminants were left at the site from the manufacture of Cold War-era weapons components and other industrial products between 1949 to 1958 for the Brush Beryllium Co., which later became Brush Wellman Engineered Materials.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • LUCKEY20-6

    Cleanup of contamination from beryllium and other toxins is taking place on an area of about 40-acres located at 21200 Luckey Rd.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • LUCKEY20-8

    The Army Corps of Engineers is cleaning up contamination from beryllium and other toxins .

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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LUCKEY — Disposal of protective clothing and showers for contractors are standard practice as the federal government begins to clean up soil contaminated with beryllium, lead, and radioactive waste at a 40-acre site near the intersection of Luckey and Gilbert roads.

It’s a stark difference from the kind of care the site has been under for the past decade. During that time it has been owned by a limited liability corporation affiliated with a family that controls a series of wrecking and demolition companies, a registered agent that was released from prison in February, and a company history of violating environmental regulations, including at the Luckey site.

The site, at 21200 Luckey Rd., has gone through a series of names and owners since it first contained a magnesium reduction facility and later a beryllium production facility.

The owners, who have never paid taxes on the property, aren’t responsible for the contamination of the 40-acre site. Government officials who have monitored the site for years said there’s no indication the owners’ actions over the past decade have compromised the area.

Work to clean up the site started last month after years of delays and roadblocks, which highlight how efforts to clean up such locations — efforts that involve detailed plans, hundreds of millions in cleanup funds, and great care to safely dispose of toxic soil — largely depend on the cooperation of property owners.

 “We are excited that the project is finally starting to take off, and we are keeping a close eye and correspondence with the [project] leaders there to make sure they are updating us on the progress they are making,” Luckey Mayor Cory Panning said.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the agency with oversight of the cleanup, refers to the locations simply as the Luckey Site.

In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission built a beryllium production facility there operated by Brush Beryllium Co., which later became Brush Wellman Inc. The area has been used for a variety of purposes since then, including work tied to nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry. 

In 1988, the U.S. Department of Energy did a preliminary evaluation of the site, and in 1992 designated it for cleanup. The Army Corps has revised cost estimates for remediation over the years. Today the agency estimates remediation will cost nearly $250 million.

Three decades after the first radiological survey of the site, cleanup crews recently began removing soil contaminated with beryllium and radioactive waste, taking care to ensure workers and nearby residents are not exposed to the toxic material.

Beryllium is not radioactive, but is incredibly toxic and can cause lungs to swell. Radioactive scrap metal was at one point also sent to the site.

Industrial Properties Recovery — identified by the Army Corps as a scrapping business — took control of the Luckey site in 2006 and has on many occasions been ordered to stop activity there.

Soon after it purchased the land, IPR began demolition work on buildings and was told by the Ohio Department of Health to cease work, according to state records. After the site was declared a public health and safety concern, IPR was ordered to either finish demolition or make repairs.

In December, 2013, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency investigated a report that Abdoo Wrecking dug up and removed water and sewer lines without checking for "asbestos-containing materials or confirming the lines were not contaminated with radioactive materials or beryllium."

Michael L. Abdoo is listed with the Secretary of State as a registered agent for both IPR and Abdoo Wrecking. IPR has a Fremont address on file with the state, and Abdoo Wrecking a Green Springs address.

The OEPA also reported that Abdoo Wrecking continued demolition work on the main production building at the site, even though the asbestos abatement contractor had said it would not complete its work.

In 2016, the Ohio EPA issued a violation for conducting an open burn of scrap metal and other wastes on the property. An agency spokesman said the burn was done in a barrel and on an asphalt parking lot so as not to disturb the soil.

Industrial Properties Recovery has run afoul of regulators elsewhere, including during the 2016 demolition of the former Thompson School in Bellevue, Ohio. The Ohio EPA was informed that demolition work on the building was done before asbestos abatement was completed, or before fluorescent light fixtures and waste liquids were removed.

In 2014, Abdoo was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to grand theft in Sandusky County Court of Common Pleas. He was released in May, 2015, but his probation was revoked in October, 2016, and he was sent back to prison until February.

He also has a June, 2014, felony theft conviction in Seneca County.

An Ohio EPA spokesman said the agency, as well as the Ohio Department of Health, has worked with Wood County officials to ensure IPR’s activities have not released contaminants. When it finds regulatory violations after they occur, it can be hard to tell what impact those violations have had. 

“If the action has happened and is no longer happening, we can't go back in time,” Ohio EPA spokesman Dina Pierce said. “I think the important thing moving forward is to ensure that activity on the site is done correctly."

And federal, state, and local officials acknowledge that the voluntary nature of the Army Corps cleanup program — known as the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program — limits their control over the owner’s actions.

That’s perhaps best illustrated by the tax history of the property.

It’s not clear why IPR purchased the property, or what the firm planned for the site. A Blade reporter called a phone number listed in an Ohio EPA report as associated with Abdoo Brothers Demolition, which lists a registered agent named David Abdoo with the Secretary of State. When the reporter identified himself and asked to speak to Michael Abdoo, the man who had answered hung up. Other attempts to reach the Abdoos were unsuccessful.

Industrial Properties Recovery has never paid property taxes for the site, racking up a more than $120,000 bill with Wood County. Counties can begin foreclosure proceedings after a property has been delinquent for two years, and property records show the tax bill has been delinquent for more than a decade.

The Wood County Prosecutor’s Office began foreclosure proceedings in 2012 on the Luckey site but dropped the case a few months later. County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said the decision to drop the foreclosure action was made because the FUSRAP program is voluntary, and the Army Corps needed Industrial Properties Recovery’s cooperation.

A protracted legal battle, Mr. Dobson said, could have delayed what already had been a decades-long wait to begin the cleanup process.

“We made the decision that the most important thing to be done with that property was this massive environmental cleanup,” he said. “I discussed it with all the parties at the time, to hold off on any kind of enforcement action in order to get the cooperation of the owners to sign a right of entry, which allows the army corps of engineers to go onto the property to begin the assessment process.”

Questions about the true identity of the property owner also raised complications, Mr. Dobson said. Originally, Industrial Properties Recovery listed Toledo attorney Charles Niehaus as the registered agent, but he resigned from that position in 2008, and a new registered agent wasn’t added until 2015, according to Ohio Secretary of State records. It was then that Michael Abdoo showed up on public company records.

Mr. Dobson said he wasn’t aware of the Ohio EPA’s 2016 notice of violation regarding the burning of scrap metal at the site but recalled a fire on the property during the demolition of buildings there.

Mr. Dobson said the Luckey site isn’t some remote concern for him.

“I used to live a couple doors down from that facility from there and raised my kids there,” he said.

Once the property is cleaned up, the county again will consider action to foreclose on the property and recover delinquent taxes. Mr. Dobson said Michael Abdoo has informed his office he no longer wants the property. 

Contractors began work April 16 on soil removal on the southern portion of the site, with the soil trucked to a U.S. Ecology facility in Belleville, Mich., according to the Army Corps. Air quality is constantly monitored, contractors wear protective clothing while they work with the soil, and water is sprayed to ensure dust does not blow from the site during cleanup.

“Excavation will proceed slowly to ensure that all systems and procedures including environmental/health and safety monitoring, contamination control, waste transportation [on-site], stockpiling, soil sorting, wastewater treatment, loading the roll-off containers, and sampling and segregating below criteria soils) are working properly,” the Army Corps announced.

About 14,000 cubic yards of soil are expected to be removed in Phase 1. Total cleanup of the site was at one time estimated to take up to 15 years, but that depends on funding levels for the project.

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