Originally created 08/15/98

School leader denies findings of EPA report



Federal scientists illegally "meddled" in the Richmond County school board's affairs and lied in a report on the Goshen-area school site, according to a rebuttal issued Friday by Superintendent Charles Larke.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a 200-page analysis July 22, concluding the 78-acre school site was too close to major chemical plants to protect students if an accident occurred.

The EPA's study, Dr. Larke wrote, "Is nothing more than an attempt to meddle with local land-use decisions by misusing statutes."

Although site opponents were consulted, the EPA still ignored "continued petitions" from the school board to work with the agency and be a part of the study, Dr. Larke wrote.

The EPA also lied in credits implying Georgia Environmental Protection Division officials worked on the report, the rebuttal said, claiming the EPD simply supplied "file data."

The EPA's study, which has since been retracted for further review, noted the school site is 670 yards from Ruetgers-Nease and Amoco Polymers, where large amounts of toxic chemicals are stored.

Dr. Larke's response -- crafted with input from site selection consultant Kelley Carey and environmental consultant Dan Troutman -- notes that many schools and neighborhoods are close to repositories of chemicals.

The Augusta Waterworks Plant on Highland Avenue, for example, stores up to 17 tons of chlorine.

"We have over 20,000 students living within five miles of that plant and 12 schools in the same distance," he said. "Our children and our many schools were here first and we are not moving."

Implying that the contested high school site is unsafe is therefore erroneous, the rebuttal charges.

"It places industries in a false light, makes the community look foolish for allowing them to build in populated areas and uses pseudo-science to make people's land appear worthless," the rebuttal said.

Virgil Fowler, chairman of the Richmond County Local Emergency Planning Committee -- whose January request for EPA assistance prompted the controversial report -- said Dr. Larke's comments are disappointing.

"It's obvious the board still does not understand the contents of the EPA report," he said. "Regardless of the wording EPA chose in their original cover letter, the fact remains that hazardous chemicals remain in inventory. The data in the report will not change."

Schools and chemical plants were built nearby years ago, before risk data and computer modeling were available, he said. But continuing that practice in the face of current risk data is irresponsible.

"We continue to express our deepest concern for the safety of the children in that proposed new high school ... and urge the entire board to reconsider their decision," Mr. Fowler said.

EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris received a facsimile of the rebuttal and asked for a response Friday.

"I've given it to the appropriate people," she said. "We are going over the original report as we speak and will have a response."

She said there is no timetable for reissuing the report.