One Mile from Home: Discovery

 One Mile from Home ™

By Gary Zalimeni

 One Mile from Home: Beginnings  (Part One), Published March 2015 (Provides links to all previously published One Mile from Home Articles.

Part TWO. Discovery

In the early 1950’s several large chemical companies did a nationwide study to determine the most ideal location for their future factory sites. The result of their study sealed the fate of Ashtabula’s future.

Hulet, machinery that extracts ore from the hold of an ore boat. The operator sits directly above the large shovel, located at the end of the arm.

Hulet, machinery that extracts ore from the hold of an ore boat. The operator sits directly above the large shovel, located at the end of the arm.

Their study indicated that areas with large ethnic populations would be less resistant to the impact created by environmental pollution. It was also based on the low educational level of these groups. Percentage-wise, Ashtabula county had one of the largest ethnic populations in the country, most of which were immigrants with little or no education.

So started one of the largest concentrations of chemical plants in the world, nearly 50 chemical companies in all, located on the outskirts of Ashtabula’s east side. “Good paying jobs” was their catch phrase and it worked dramatically. Both residents and government officials welcomed them. This is how the nightmare began.

Titanium tetrachloride is a highly volatile substance used in aircraft manufacturing. A local firefighter, and close friend of mine, went to an alarm at the plant that produced this volatile compound. While there, a huge cloud of titanium tetrachloride drifted over him and his crew. The highly toxic cloud sent every firefighter to the emergency room while also destroying the paint and chrome on the fire truck. All of their clothes and emergency gear was sent to a hazardous waste site. After 30 years my friend still suffers the health effects from that incident.

The hazardous chemical releases were not always accidental. Often, plant operators would intentionally release huge clouds of poisonous chemicals to avoid equipment damage or catastrophic explosions in their plants. When the wind was right these clouds, which covered dozens of square blocks, would roll through our neighborhoods. This almost always happened at night while the city was asleep; leaving windows open could lead to a home full of poisonous fumes. The residents of our community were either too complacent, in complete denial or totally ignorant of the dangers they faced on a daily basis.

Most of these plants were located adjacent to a gently flowing stream called Fields Brook and Fields Brook is where they dumped much of their chemical waste. The stream flowed about a mile through residential neighborhoods and eventually into the very large Ashtabula River. The Ashtabula River (named “River of Many Fish” by the Algonquin Indians) flowed about a mile further before it emptied into Lake Erie. Ashtabula’s drinking water intake pipe was located in Lake Erie exactly one mile directly out from where the Ashtabula river flowed into the lake.

In time, this little Brook would make the history books as the only moving water (stream) ever to be placed on the Federal EPA’s National Superfund Site list. It would reach Top Priority status and catapult the city of Ashtabula into the national spotlight.

Unexpectedly, my long search for the truth started on a warm, late October afternoon in 1978. It began with one question.

I was in our front yard raking leaves when my neighbor, an iron worker, walked over to me and asked me a question. My friend (who has gone nameless to this day) said “hey Gary, I was working on the roof of the Reactive Metals Plant and before leaving, two men came up to me and waved a machine over my entire body.” He continued, “they made me lift both feet and went over them with a device that made a clicking noise, what do you think that was all about?” he asked. My answer surprised him, I said “to me it sounds like a Geiger Counter.”

My neighbor said his job was to replace huge air filters on the roof of the facility. I jokingly said, “did the guys who examined you have white coveralls and respirators on?” He said “how did you know that?”

Fear and disbelief overcame me. Why use a Geiger Counter? If it was a Geiger Counter, they were looking for signs of radiation but there were no factories handling radioactive materials in our area. . . or so we thought. We spoke briefly about possible radioactive contamination and as he walked away he said “Gary, the plant is one mile from home!”


About Ashtabula River and Harbor
Lake Erie, OhioBoard of Health Sign Warning Against Eating Fish

The Ashtabula River is located in northeast Ohio, flowing into Lake Erie at Ashtabula Ohio.  Tributaries include Fields Brook, Hubbard Run, Strong Brook, and Ashtabula Creek.  The bottom sediments, bank soils and biota of Fields Brook have been severely contaminated by unregulated discharges of hazardous substances.  Hazardous substances have migrated downstream from Fields Brook to the Ashtabula River and Harbor, contaminating sediments, fish and wildlife.  Hazardous substances include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated benzenes, chlorinated ethenes, hexachlorobutadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), other organic chemicals, heavy metals and low-level radionuclides.

Large Crane in Ashtabula Harbor, also Pleasure Craft

Large Crane in Ashtabula Harbor, also Pleasure Craft

Fields Brook was placed on the National Priorities List (“Superfund”) of uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in 1983, pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 USC ú9601 et seq. (CERCLA) and is being remediated under that authority.  In 1994 the Ashtabula River Partnership (Partnership) was formed to facilitate a voluntary cleanup of the Ashtabula River.  If the Partnership is successful, the cleanup will be funded by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Ohio as well as the Ashtabula River Cooperating Group (ARCG), which consists of Cabot Corp., Detrex Corp., Elkem Metals Co., First Energy Corp., GenCorp, Inc., Mallinckrodt Inc., Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, Millennium Petrochemicals Inc., Ohio Power Co., Olin Corporation, Occidental Chemical Corporation, Pennsylvania Lines LLC, RMI Titanium Co., The Sherwin Williams Company, Union Carbide Corporation, and Viacom International Inc.  If implemented, the Partnership project will result in the removal of much of the contaminated sediment in the Ashtabula River.  However, the Partnership project does not fully address injuries to natural resources.

 Related Articles

 One Mile from Home: Beginnings  (Part One), Published March 2015 (Provides links to all previously published One Mile from Home Articles.


Author: Gary Zalimeni

Gary Zalimeni is a resident of north Scottsdale and a former resident of Ashtabula, Ohio. Zalimeni is the recipient of two Grammy nominations for a song that he wrote and that was recorded by Ronny Gee. After an enjoyable career in music, writing, and real estate, he enjoys writing and the fine arts.

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  1. Excellent Article,very well written & composed.It is true !

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  2. I always thought that the contamination was caused by the Ashtabula Hide and Leather where my father worked.

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