On Wednesday, August 18th, a coalition of environmental organizations, led by Bev Reed of CORR, held a community meeting in Martins Ferry to discuss the impact of the Austin Master facility on the local water supply. We posted a live video of the meeting on our Facebook page, but if you weren't able to view it in its entirety, we've posted the questions and answers from the event below.
Q. How contaminated is our water (in Martins Ferry)?
A. The Ohio EPA stated over email that the radium level in 2020 was 0 and in 2014 it was 0. Martins Ferry is on a six-year testing schedule for radium testing.
Q. Is every six years enough for radium testing of Martins Ferry water and how do we know the water is safe? Is the fact that the last test was 0 enough to trust?
A. What the test technically said is that radium is non-detected, but what they didn’t tell us is what the detection level was. That test means that water gathered from all of the area in the well-field was pulled together and blended, then they processed it into clean drinking water, and then they tested it. The question is how bad is the plume that is developing underneath Austin Master’s facility now. That is what you answer by putting in monitoring wells and doing quarterly testing.
Q. Who do we ask about monitoring?
A. The public water supply should be doing that. There are monitoring wells at the site that predate Austin Master, but we have yet to get an answer to whose monitoring wells those are, what they’re being tested for, and whether they can be used. We have asked the Ohio EPA for an answer and we haven’t gotten it yet. It’s part of your public water supply’s source water management plan to determine where potential sources of contamination are, the site clearly qualifies, and they should be monitoring it directly.
Q. Have you given this to the Governor?
A. We are giving this information to all the representatives and senators in the state of Ohio.
Q. What is the water like near Martins Ferry schools?
A. We have to look into that regarding fracking pad installation.
Q. Why is the six-year period not enough for testing?
A. Martins Ferry has a known source of contamination and we know what’s in the facility. We know that Austin Master works with the doors open and that there are holes in the roof and that rain was entering the facility. It’s not a question of whether it could possibly be a source - it is a known source.
Q. Did the mayor let this happen?
A. The current mayor, Mayor Davies, was not mayor at that time when the facility came in. He doesn’t have anything to do with it coming in, but in 2015 when Austin Master set up here, Martins Ferry could have made a water protection plan but they didn’t. The mayor at the time was touting the company and wasn’t asking any scrutinizing questions. The community didn’t know about it or how toxic it could be or that Austin Master came from Youngstown to avoid this scrutiny.
Q. How many households are supplied water through this well?
A. Martins Ferry has about 2,500 homes. Some of those could be vacated but that’s from the most recent census data. Bridgeport has 1,700 residents and those homes are also fed through this well. In 2003, it was pumping more than 3 million gallons a day, so they’re probably pumping even more because it’s a bigger area now. Martins Ferry is also looking at supplying water to towns up and down the Ohio River so it’s even more of a reason to protect this well.
Q. Are they bringing the waste in from trucks?
A. Yes, they are bringing in liquid and solid waste from trucks. Shipping in container trucks that are flat, rectangular in shape. They are offloaded inside and down blended on site. Some of the trucks that come in are not placarded and the people driving them may not know what is exactly in these trucks. Workers driving these trucks are also not given proper training to know how to handle the waste inside their hauls.
Q. Since 2014, how many OSHA violations has Austin Master had?
A. OSHA can investigate on their own but they haven’t and so far we haven’t seen any violations that workers have initiated themselves. When OSHA was made aware of the recent report at Austin Master, they stated that a worker hadn’t been directly affected and didn’t file a complaint. There is still environmental harm and worker harm, but if organizations aren’t testing and looking for violations, then they won’t find any. This waste that Austin Master is taking, every time it is studied, is highly radioactive and workers should have protective equipment on yet they don’t.
Q. Where was Austin Master located previously?
A. It was at a brownfield development facility, formerly US Steel property. That triggered an internal investigation by the Youngstown Fire Department when the business wanted to change their means of operating, which triggered zoning boards. These old buildings are usually in areas that don’t have a lot of traffic and where they’re cheap to rent or own because the previous owners need to get rid of them fast. After the fire chief began investigating, the company moved to Martins Ferry.
Q. How toxic is the waste that is being brought in?
A. We simply don’t know. There has been no transparency from Austin Master.
Q. Does Austin Master only take in toxic waste or do they transport it elsewhere and where does it go?
A. It depends on what the company does with it. If they downblend it (mix it with limestone sand) then it’ll go to a solid waste landfill. If they can’t downblend it enough, then it’ll go to a low-level radioactive waste landfill. Ohio doesn’t require any tracking for where this waste goes so we don’t entirely know.