Two of Northeast Ohio’s most controversial toxic waste sites

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IMAGE: A member of a cleanup crew examines a tank at Danton Dry Cleaning in 1994. The storefront spilled toxic waste into its basement, which leaked into the local water supply, and the EPA has been trying to clean up the mess for nearly 30 years. (Cleveland.com)

No one can deny the environmental issues and criticisms warranted by the existence of superfund sites, areas deemed so toxically polluted by the Environmental Protection Agency they earn a spot on the National Priorities List.

None of these sites are in good shape, but some are worse than others. Let’s take a closer look at two of Ohio’s most toxic parcels of land, and let’s make it a little more personal by choosing two right here in Northeast Ohio.

INDUSTRIAL EXCESS LANDFILL
Uniontown, Ohio

This Stark County project was fine up until 1966, primarily used as a sand and gravel mine. But after that, it became one of Ohio’s most toxic and talked about sites, as nearly 800,000 gallons of solid waste and over 1 million gallons of liquid waste were dumped on-site over the next 14 years. The landfill was known to accept industrial wastes and hazardous wastes from places such as hospitals and septic tanks, and it was discovered after the fill was covered by soil that it had contaminated local groundwater and soil.

The EPA has completed multiple five-year reviews — standard for judging the effectiveness of superfund cleanup efforts — and has determined each time that they’re on track, but one thing is for certain: This is a long-term project. The EPA had to come in and cap the site, supplying alternative water supplies for over 100 homes.

The most intensive part of the cleanup has been dealing with the contaminated groundwater. The EPA had to remove and treat the contaminated water, but also had to pump in new water to maintain the water table.In order to do this, the agency had to purchase 22 parcels of land in 1990, which included residences and businesses. The cleanup, like most superfund sites will be for decades, is ongoing.

COPLEY SQUARE PLAZA
Copley, Ohio

Copley Square Plaza is a shining example of how the incompetence and purposeful ignorance of some can lead to the suffering of many. Beginning in a Summit County strip mall in the 1960s, Danton Dry Cleaners was your average small business in a small town.

Except for the fact they were dumping toxic chemicals into their basement for decades. The concrete in that basement eventually cracked under that pressure, spilling carcinogenic chemicals into the local water supply.

It took nearly 30 years, but eventually, in 1990, residents began complaining of foul-smelling water. Without inundating you with the scientific terms, the chemicals leaked into the water have been known to cause dizziness, kidney failure and have been linked to multiple different cancers.

Whereas the situation in Uniontown described above was more random because of the varied nature of waste dumped in the landfill, in Copley, it was more simple: The EPA just needed to fix the water. Since then, they’ve been injecting more chemicals — safer ones this time — into the water in an attempt to break up the original contamination. The EPA is currently hoping to complete the design of cleanup for the site’s underground aquifers by 2020, and will complete its next five-year review around that time.

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