Plant cleanup passes muster

An advisory board member said he would tell neighbors of the plant that they shouldn't have any qualms.
RAVENNA -- Lester Gourley remembers the days -- 60 years ago -- when he delivered milk to families who lived in homes on the land that was just becoming the Army Ammunition Plant.
The land was covered with farms. And he watched it transform into a $61 million plant where 12 production lines built more than 36 million World War II bombs and shells, and 420 million other munition parts.
He remembers the days when rail cars delivered explosives daily, when thousands of men and women worked at the plant, when traffic snarled the town's streets.
Today, after seeing the plant alive with activity through three wars, Gourley is watching as Army officials and environmental cleanup groups investigate the now-quiet 22-acre site, most of which is used for Ohio National Guard training and programs.
A $48 million program to restore the land began in 1989 and is expected to continue through 2008.
Board tour: Gourley, now a Windham Township trustee, is one of about a dozen members of the plant's Restoration Advisory Board who toured the property Saturday.
The group is made up of members of communities surrounding the plant. They were accompanied on Saturday's tour by plant and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer officials, as well as workers from private companies contracted to conduct environmental testing.
"I don't think people in surrounding areas should have any qualms about any problems," Gourley said. "I think they're doing their best to make sure nothing is here."
Targeted areas: Board members have attended about four tours over the past five years. This time, they saw four areas: lines where bombs and artillery shells were assembled with TNT; a line where small parts for bombs and artillery shells were produced using black powder; ponds where waste containing TNT was sent; and open areas where materials containing explosive waste were burned.
Officials said dozens of samples have been taken from various areas around sites of concern -- soils, sediment, water from sewers, surface water, ground water, soil beneath building floors and floor debris.
Investigators are searching for explosive materials, metals including lead, organic compounds, PCBs and pesticides.
Mark Patterson, environmental coordinator at the plant, said little hazardous waste has been detected on the site. Areas of concern are where there are elevated levels of nonhazardous chemicals.
What's on the site: Just yards from aging buildings, the property resembles a state park, with woods, ponds and various plants and wildlife. Birds, raccoons, beavers, fish and deer inhabit these areas.
But testing must go further than what meets the eye, said Elizabeth Ferguson, toxicologist with the Corps of Engineers in Louisville.
Testers will study wildlife and plants to determine what species exist, how many there are and how strong they are, she explained.
To determine the extent of contamination, these findings will be compared with samples from similar areas where contamination is not suspected.
Once investigators determine the extent of contamination, plans will be formulated for cleanup and might include various means of disposing of it.
Randolph Township Clerk Rebecca Carter, an advisory board member, said she has noticed a visible change in the property since the first tour five years ago, especially in the amount of vegetation. She has confidence in the cleanup program, she said.
"Our constituents ask us what's on the property -- is it something they should be concerned about," said Carter, who also serves on the Ohio Township Association board. "Well, sure. But the way it's being handled is state of the art."

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