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Lethal Landfill, Part 1: Is there an EPA coverup?

Lethal Landfill, Part 1: Is there an EPA coverup?

For nearly three decades a festering boil of toxins, hazardous waste, and perhaps even radioactive sludge, has been in the ground of northeast Ohio. The industrial access landfill in Uniontown is one of the first superfund sites identified since the advent of that Environmental Protection Agency program.

Still, federal, state, and local authorities can't or won't clean it up. Perhaps even more startling is that Target 3 investigations have found what EPA insiders are calling a government coverup at this superfund site.

Hugh Kaufman is the leading authority on problems at Uniontown's industrial excess landfill. He is an EPA insider whose job for the last three years has been investigating potential wrong doing in the cleanup of America's most dangerous dumpsites. IEL is one of those.

"It's a complex case, where the regional office in Chicago, Region Five, apparently did not follow EPA procedures prior to coming up with a recommended remedy," said Kaufman.

In the details lies the mystery that has plagued both investigators and the community of Uniontown for 30 years.

There was evidence of radiation, discarded by the EPA, and accusations of water and ground test tampering by region five investigators, which some say lead to a premature cleanup solution.

William Muno, head of the EPA's Region Five Superfund, defends EPA Region Five's testing and the proposed cleanup that has yet to be implemented.

"The remedy we selected in 1989 is appropriate for the landfill and any subsequent information that has been brought to light does not negate that original 1989 remedy," Muno said.

Muno states the final remedy will include a plastic cap over the 30 acre site and or new trees and plants to help naturally release the poisons that lie deep below the surface. But what does lie below the surface?

It is a list of substances the Agency for Toxic Chemicals says are linked to cancer, birth defects and death.

There have been TCEs, PCEs, and heavy metals detected in the landfill in high concentrations.

In 1991, Tom Grumbly was appointed by then head of the federal EPA, Bill Reilly, to troubleshoot EPA Region Five's investigation into what went in that landfill.

"They were playing the game that Johnny Carson made famous. Carnac ... when they had the answer before they knew what the question was, " Grumbly said.

"Of course if you don't look you don't find. They could say they didn't find anything," scientist Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management said.

The citizens of Uniontown hired New York scientist Dr. Marvin Resnikoff with EPA grant money.

He found perhaps the most startling of the landfill Secrets: radiation.

In his 1993 analysis, Resnikoff points out a state EPA test that shows radiation levels in a monitoring well 200 feet away from the landfill at 140 times the naturally occurring rate.

As recent as last December Region Five EPA received a memo from one of its hired geologists.

In one landfill monitoring well, increased levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, have been found. It was a the highest level detected since testing began at the site.

Note: This series was originally posted to wkyc.com between February 12 and 20, 2001.