For Release: 10:30 a.m. ET, January 22, 2001

 

Contact:  Bruce Cornett, Green Environmental Coalition, 937-767-5000 or 937-767-2109; bcornett@servlet.com

  Jack Shaner, Ohio Environmental Council, 614-487-7506 or cell-614-296-3710; jack@theoec.org   

 

STUDY FINDS OHIO’S “brownfield” CLEAN-UP PROGRAM A FAILURE, CALLS FOR REFORMS

                                                                                                     

Report released as Gov. Taft and Legislature plan how to spend $200 million in State Issue 1 funds for clean-up, redevelopment of contaminated old industrial sites

 

(Columbus, Ohio)--Ohio’s voluntary brownfield clean-up program has allowed site owners to cover up, rather than clean up, lead and other toxic chemicals with pavement, fencing, and landscaping.  It has seen $5.8 million in state loans, grants, and tax incentives invested in sites that remain contaminated.  After seven years of operation, only 111 sites have entered the program.  Meanwhile, more than 1,800 sites with known or suspected contamination continue to blight Ohio’s landscape.

 

These are among the findings of the first-ever, file-by-file review of the state’s controversial Voluntary Action Program, or “VAP,” released today by a coalition of environmental organizations and citizens who live near land laced with toxic chemicals.

 

“It’s time to fix the VAP,” declared Bruce Cornett, director of the Green Environmental Coalition, which authored the report. 

 

            The study was released just two days before Ohio Gov. Bob Taft’s annual state of the state address at which he is expected to outline plans for spending $200 million on a new brownfield clean-up and redevelopment program authorized by Ohio voters last November.

 

            The report also found:

 

 

“Some people suggest we should throw this program out, along with Ohio EPA,” said

Cornett.  “We don't share that view.  We believe this program can be rescued and reformed so that it protects our health, our land and water, and our private property rights while still affording property owners an opportunity to voluntarily clean up and redevelop their property.”

 

            The report recommends that state officials take the following actions to reform the VAP:

 

 

For Suzanne Patterson, the state’s failed program hits close to home.  She lives in Yellow

Springs, next door to a contaminated site owned by Vernay Laboratories where toxic solvents were once dumped on the ground.  The site is enrolled in the VAP.  Testing has confirmed that cancer-causing chemicals from the site have migrated through groundwater beneath her property.

 

“The government is not protecting my property,” said Patterson.  “This is my land and I want it to be restored to the same condition to which I bought it 15 years ago.  The VAP is not helping.  Instead, it’s a nightmare.”

 

The VAP has remained controversial since it was established by the state legislature in 1994.  Under it, owners of contaminated sites are encouraged to voluntarily enroll in the program in exchange for free technical assistance from the state and the enticement of a covenant from the state not to sue participants who comply with program requirements.  A random audit of completed projects by the state EPA is supposed to ensure compliance.

 

But, as the report documents, the federal government has never approved Ohio’s program, leaving participants vulnerable to federal liability.  Other states with voluntary cleanup programs enjoy successful clean-up programs.  New Jersey has cleaned up thousands of sites; Minnesota has more than 1,000 participants in its program.

 

“The VAP is a failed investment,” said Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council.  “Before Ohio infuses $200 million into a new clean-up program, it should heed the failures of its current program.  That’s just smart business.”

 

--30--

 

The Green Environmental Coalition is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring public participation in legislative actions affecting the environment.  The GEC’s 150-page report includes an additional CD ROM containing thousands of pages scanned from VAP archives and all Ohio EPA databases related to the VAP.  The report is available at www.greenlink.org [.]

 

The Ohio Environmental Council is a non-profit network of more than 100 environmental and conservation organizations that advocates for clean air, clean water, and protection of the land.