Ohio EPA Wants to Re-Designate 'Area of Concern' Around Elyria's Black River

click to enlarge Ohio EPA Wants to Re-Designate 'Area of Concern' Around Elyria's Black River
Saying that environmental problems have subsided and that a new designation could prompt greater chances at securing federal grants, an Ohio EPA official is urging the Lorain County commissioners to "shrink" the boundaries of the "area of concern" around the Black River in Elyria, according to the Chronicle-Telegram.

For decades now, a large swath of land surrounding the waterway has been under federal scrutiny. Scene reported on the problem in 2008.

As far back as 1954, Thelma Ryan, a Ford Road resident, shot off a letter to Gov. Frank Lausche, complaining about the "stinking, smoldering, rat-infested horror of horrors," referring to a nearby landfill, which was becoming a behemoth crafted from pesticides, paint, lead, and factory runoff. She encouraged other residents to do the same. There's no record of any government response.

In 1980, Ohio EPA tests confirmed benzene, dimethylbenzene, and hexanone leaking from the industrial dump into the Black River. Political bandages were applied, and by the end of the 80s, the problem was deemed under control.

But the problem only grew.

From Scene, in 2008:

No one bothered to confirm the thesis for another 13 years. When the EPA finally tried in 1993, it once again found oily chemicals seeping from the ground. The agency petitioned to have the former landfill declared one of the most dangerous sites in America.

The EPA put in monitoring wells to keep track of toxin levels. Then the agency disappeared once more. It wasn't heard from again for another 10 years, until it was forced into action.

For decades, environmentalists have been concerned about the effects of pollution on the Great Lakes. Terrifying indicators were on the rise — fish with olive-size tumors, birds with reproductive problems, funny-tasting water.

What began unfolding around 2000 was a broad state and federal cover-up to hide a study conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control. The report, produced finally in 2007, "showed that the population living near these areas — over 9 million people — had suffered more cases of breast, lung, and colon cancer than expected, as well as a higher-than-normal infant mortality rate."

What followed, after several years of quiet, was a $3.4-million strategy that involved extracting the most polluted areas, then strengthening the clay cover. Cleanup has been ongoing.

The current Ohio EPA suggestion would decrease the size of the official "area of concern" from the entire Black River watershed to only what is north of Cascade Falls.

The third annual Black River Clean-Up is set for Saturday, May 2, and Sunday, May 3, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants are meeting at the Black River Wharf Boat Launch, 1355 Black River Parkway in Lorain.
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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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