Canton Repository

May 10, 2001

Federal watchdog wants to resume landfill probe 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — A federal ombudsman could soon resume his investigation of the Industrial Excess Landfill in Lake Township.

Robert Martin, ombudsman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he would like to continue the probe he suspended in January.

Martin said he is “contemplating” sending out formal questions to parties involved with the cleanup “to move the case. I think that would be the next step.” Martin did not say who would get the questions or when he might begin.

The ombudsman launched an investigation of the 30-acre Superfund site in 1998 in response to citizens groups and others who lacked faith in EPA cleanup plans. Akron-based tire and rubber manufacturers and others used the landfill before it was closed in 1980.

Also this week, U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, D-Akron, applied pressure on EPA management to resume the investigation. Sawyer sent a letter to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman urging her to “approve the ombudsman’s re-entry into the IEL matter at the earliest possible time.”

Sawyer said Martin had recommended a “schedule of additional work and public meetings in order to complete testing and resolve a variety of concerns about the design of the final cleanup at the site” before the probe was halted.

In 1998, Sawyer persuaded then-EPA administrator Carol Browner to allow Martin to investigate the
IEL site.

Last January, Martin suspended the IEL probe, as well as 19 other investigations he was working on. He indicated that the agency’s decision to bar his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman, from working for him, and proposed changes to the ombudsman’s job, prevented him from continuing.

Since then, Martin has resumed several of the probes, but not the one at IEL.

In a preliminary report he issued last October, Martin said the EPA should conduct additional testing at
IEL “to allow for a more complete analysis of contamination” before making the cleanup plan final.

When Martin issued that report, he asked then-regional EPA Administrator Francis X. Lyons to join him as a co-chairman of a technical working group that would be formed to evaluate technical issues at the site.

Lyons declined, but he suggested Martin use an existing Technical Information Committee to review the issues. That committee is made up of EPA representatives, other federal, state and local officials, and citizens. It has not met since 1999 and does not have any meetings planned, an EPA spokeswoman said.

Lyons, a political appointee, left the agency after George W. Bush was elected president and was replaced by acting administrator David Ullrich.

The EPA has developed a plan to put a synthetic cap over the landfill and let contaminated ground water become restored through “natural attenuation” — in effect, letting natural processes break down the
contaminants over a number of years. The plan includes expanding a methane venting system at the landfill and continuing to test groundwater for radiation and other contaminants.