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Toxic-waste cleanups: solving problem, or relocating it?

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Every day for two weeks now, 30 trucks have been rolling through the gate of a large business facility in Jackson Township, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Once unloaded, they roll back out of town, headed north.

Nothing particularly remarkable about that, right?

There wouldn't be but for one factor: Their cargo is dried sludge contaminated by PCBs, pesticide residues, and other chemicals. It is coming from the cleanup of a defunct waste-disposal company site in Swartz Creek, Mich. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks Swartz Creek 16th on its list of sites slated for cleanup with federal Superfund money.

But if this particular cleanup brings a measure of relief to the people of Swartz Creek, it does just the opposite for the residents of Jackson Township. For them, and for many others across the United States, the operation raises an important question: Do the cleanups of toxic chemical dumps merely transfer the problem somewhere else?

Yes, say local citizens groups and environmentalists who are organizing to defend their rights and properties.

No, responds the EPA, although an agency official says, ''We realize there is a crisis in terms of public confidence.'' The official adds, however, ''We would not take the stuff to a site that wasn't safe.''

Jackson Township is the home of a 438-acre commercial landfill operated by Chemical & Environmental Conservation Systems International, a firm based in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Licensed by the EPA to handle PCBs, the landfill serves a five-state area.

Says Bill Stewart, a Jackson Township retiree and president of Voting Ohioans Initiating a Clean Environment (VOICE), which is protesting the dump: ''We figure at this site we have received over a billion pounds (of toxic waste in recent years), and I believe I'm being conservative. We were told by the Ohio EPA not to be concerned about it. But we are concerned. We are forced to accept a hazardous-waste facility we do not want.''


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