"I'm Scared to Death to Live Here"

Quan Truong
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

WHITEWATER TWP. - Health officials concluded Tuesday that chemicals leaked from the former Chevron refinery site are not posing a health threat to residents here. Still, it did little to ease the concerns of those who live in the small community of Hooven, tucked about 20 miles west of downtown Cincinnati.

About 60 of them showed up for a meeting with state, federal and Chevron officials Tuesday night. The Ohio Department of Health study showed that current levels of isopentane and trimethylpentane - both components of gasoline - currently do not exceed health standards.

This is the third study in the last decade with the same finding. But residents want to know f they've been exposed to harmful levels in the past - before the studies began. "Unfortunately, it's probably a question that nobody can answer and it is a valid concern," said Rafael Gonzalez, with the U.S. EPA.

The refinery operated for 54 years before Chevron closed it in 1986 - a year after investigators discovered a plume of leaked gasoline. Chevron later removed about 3.5 million gallons of it. The company estimated 5 million gallons had leaked, although it's impossible to know exactly how much had seeped into the groundwater and soil.

More than 200 residents are currently suing Chevron. The multi-million dollar claim is pending in federal court in Cincinnati. While it is the third Ohio Department of Health study that has concluded an "indeterminate public health hazard," residents here have become distrustful, claiming the company has tried to cover up the leak.

One resident, Kelly Greer, 39, has been keeping a list of those who died of cancer in Hooven. She counted at least 30. Last year alone, she said, she knew of 13 people in the 142-home community who died of various health reasons. "I'm scared to death to live here anymore," she said. "They need to get us off this plume. We want off so bad."

If inhaled at high levels, the two chemicals being investigated can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, headaches, blurred vision, and dizziness. Greer and several other residents at Tuesday night's meeting said they are suffering from bladder disorders, asthma and liver problems.

Two said they recently had to have their thyroids removed and one woman had three generations suffering from various illnesses in her home. "I've held sick people in my arms - people are who sick with cancer - and said goodbye to them," Greer said. "Chevron has not done this. They haven't watched all these people in Hooven die." Residents say they cannot move because they can't find anyone who would "buy a house on a plume."

The ODH recommended that Chevron continue to operate a vapor-extracting system, monitor the levels of chemicals and help install vapor barriers to new construction sites in certain parts of Hooven. They also suggested more sampling and continued efforts to reduce gasoline levels under the community.

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