World War II chemical plant tested for contamination

CLEVELAND (AP) - A World War II chemical plant is being tested for contamination more than 40 years after its work for the Atomic Energy Commission ended.
The Harshaw Chemical Co. plant along the Cuyahoga River refined uranium as part of the federal government's secret atomic production system that produced the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The government has returned to the site with a team of 30 environmental cleanup specialists to determine whether a cleanup is needed, said David Romano, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Current owners of the 40-acre Harshaw site, Chevron and Engelhard Corp., want it cleaned up.
Workers will collect and analyze more than 1,100 soil and groundwater samples from nearly 300 locations by mid-July, said Timothy P. Hiles, project manager for Parsons, a Pasadena, Calif.-based construction management company doing the work.
Traces of radiation and hazardous chemicals remain but do not pose a risk to health or the environment, Romano said.
Uranium refinement at Harshaw stopped in 1954. All that remains on the site are empty buildings.
The majority of contamination is confined to a two- and three-story brick building, which has been fenced off for years, Hiles said.
Tons of uranium powder once arrived at the site by train.
Harshaw workers removed impurities, refined it, then sent it on for more processing at a plant in Tennessee.
Investigators suspect minor spills occurred as the uranium was shipped, or that it was spread around the site unknowingly by workers, Hiles said.

"They did everything by the book at the time," said Jeff Devaughn, field geologist for Science Application International Corp., a La Jolla, Calif.-based research and engineering firm. "But they didn't have the protocols we have today, which a lot of people today forget. Back then, they didn't know better."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing a program to study and clean up sites from the country's early atomic energy program. There are 47 sites in 14 states.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)