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Officials hear pleas for action

| Thursday, May 23, 2002

Melissa Bailey stood before state officials Wednesday and pleaded for bottled water.

Bailey, 28, her husband, Colin, 32, and their four children live one-half mile from a federal SuperFund site near Petrolia in Butler County.

She was one of 10 people who formally commented at a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hearing on water problems in northeastern Butler County. About 250 people attended the meeting in Butler County.

The DEP is providing bottled water to some residents of the Petrolia area — but not to the Baileys — because the water supply is contaminated.

"What if I gave you some water?" Melissa Bailey asked. "Would you take it home and give it to your family tonight• I swear I will call every day if I have to."

The DEP has documented or suspects that industrial waste has been dumped in at least 14 sites in Butler and Armstrong counties. The materials were disposed of 50 years ago before dumping waste became illegal.

At the hearing, two local real estate agents complained about the inability of residents to sell their homes. Other residents complained of health problems.

Diane Mellish, 53, a real estate agent from Chicora, waved papers containing listings for 18 houses for sale.

"I have these if anybody wants to buy a house," she said. "They're cheap."

Another agent, Mitzi File, 46, of Bruin, agreed.

"As of March," she said, "nothing has sold in our area. We cannot get a loan for any property in this area. We can't give it away."

Clifford Eiler, 64, said he and his wife, Jacqueline, 70, have suffered from chronic diarrhea since they moved to Bruin about four years ago. Their illness stopped during a vacation to Atlantic City, N.J., but resumed upon their return home, he said.

"One more thing," he said. "My wife does have cancer, too."

In some places near the disposal sites, tests have shown that groundwater and wells have been contaminated by sulfonic acids and resorcinol. Sulfonic acids are an industrial waste, and resorcinol is an adhesive used in everything from cosmetics to tires.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not set a drinking-water standard for sulfonic acids. State and federal regulation also do not require the acids to be part of routine wate-quality sampling.

As a result, the agency began providing bottled water to about 800 residents in the Petrolia area. Residents express concerns that the pollutants may be causing cancer, but no studies have been conducted to determine whether there is a link between cancer cases and the chemicals.

Kelly Burch, regional director of the DEP, said his agency examined state records and found that the area's cancer rate is comparable to the rest of the county, the region and the state.

A study conducted by Butler Memorial Hospital for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows that northeastern Butler County has a higher death rate from cancer than the rest of the nation and a rate similar to the rest of the county. In addition, 96 percent of the residents diagnosed with cancer in northeastern Butler County have a family history of the disease or engage in risky behavior, such as smoking.

In a letter Friday to residents, chemical company Beazer East Inc. outlined its responsibility for waste in the area.

Beazer East acknowledged that former Koppers Co., which it had bought, had dumped waste at the Kelly Farm site and possibly at the Apple Road site.

Beazer East said it had detected what it has termed "low levels" of sulfonates in the groundwater near Kelly Farm in December 2000. Since then, the company has been giving bottled water to 133 homes.

The company said it did not join the state in giving bottled water to Petrolia because, it contends, there are other potential sources of sulfonic acids in the area other than the two sites for which it is accepting responsibility.

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