Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Some protest absence of signs

Lead tests ongoing at new school site

By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer

MASON - As more than 8,500 students return to classes today, testing for potentially hazardous lead continues on the site of Mason's planned elementary school.

Meanwhile, some parents in the communities near the future school site off Mason Road are asking why school officials have not posted warning signs alerting people, especially children who are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, to stay off the site. But Mason school officials, who discovered the lead contamination in April but did not publicly announce the discovery until July after further testing, say they have acted responsibly.

map Bruce Sheib and his son, Ben, have ridden bikes next to the field, easily accessible to children living in the adjacent Hickory Woods and Parkside subdivisions. "They should have some warning signs up," he said.

Workers hired by the school district are trying to determine where concentrations of lead debris are located from an abandoned private shooting range that once operated at the site.

Soil testing in surrounding subdivisions has found no lead.

Mason Board of Education President Dave Lenert said such signs weren't needed.

It would have been irresponsible to post such signs when the chances of any children being exposed to dangerous levels of lead are minimal, he said.

"Kids would have to be rolling in the dirt, eating it and breathing it for a long time," said Lenert, who added that the lead has been found in only 4 acres of the 47-acre site that hasn't been used for shooting since the 1950s and has long been covered in grass.

If the district were to post any warning signs, it would immediately hurt property values of all homes in the adjacent subdivisions, he said.

"We didn't want to cause alarm for people who have no reason to be alarmed. Those neighborhoods would have been stigmatized," he said.

The district, which purchased the land for $1.6 million in 1999, has contracted with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site, but neither the extent of the cleanup nor who will pay for it has been determined.

Mason Superintendent Kevin Bright said the district is following EPA guidelines, and signs are not required.

"The property is vacant and presently is not being used by the public, and additionally the testing is not complete. We will have the complete results in October," he said.

"Meanwhile, the EPA has taken air quality assessments at the site, and no levels of lead were detectable in the air. The soil has been undisturbed and was covered with high grass, making the likelihood of lead contamination through dust very low," said Bright.

Mason is the third Greater Cincinnati school to discover lead on its property in less than a year. Kings, also in Warren County, and the private Cincinnati Country Day in Hamilton County, have both had EPA clean-ups of lead debris from abandoned shooting ranges.


E-mail mclark@enquirer.com

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