Is This a New Day for the Ohio EPA?

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It’s not often the Ohio EPA gets to look like a responsible watchdog. After years of ignoring a chemical leak in Middlefield, watching Mittal Steel poison the air in Slavic Village, and allowing a Garfield Heights shopping center to be built on a toxic-waste site, we’re just grateful they haven’t made burning tires the official air filtration system of Ohio nursing homes. In fact, the only government entity that could make the EPA look good by comparison is… the Cleveland school district. And that’s what happened last week. After a fire in the basement of West Side elementary school R.G. Jones at Nathaniel Hawthorne, district officials made the brilliant decision to let kids come back to class the next day. When parents and teachers complained about a lingering odor in the halls, the district got a private company, GETCO Environmental, to do an air quality test. The test came back clear. Still, by Wednesday morning, news reports had alerted the state EPA to the situation, and the agency decided to send an asbestos expert to check it out. Hmm, maybe exposing little kids to poisoned air isn’t such a great idea. Sure enough, the EPA’s Jim Veres discovered that GETCO had used the wrong testing method. According to EPA spokesman Mike Settles, Veres told district officials they needed to retest. He even suggested that maybe they should close school until the results came back. Just in case, you know, the kids were breathing asbestos. The test soon revealed that the school’s air was filled with up to three times the acceptable limit for airborne dust — and more tests were needed. Then, and only then, did the district finally close the school. – Lisa Rab

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