EPA moving forward with a $1.8 Asbestos Cleanup at Champion Spark Plug Site

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with a $1.8 million cleanup of the former Champion Spark Plug factory in the 900 block of Upton Avenue Toledo OH six years after the factory’s buildings were razed and three years after a subsequent owner was sentenced in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for improper asbestos removal and disposal. The agency said Wednesday the cleanup, which is being done under the federal government’s Superfund program, is expected to take two months. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said in a prepared statement that the 20-acre site is finally being cleaned because of the diligence of Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. Miss Kaptur is a member of the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Committee, which has oversight over U.S. EPA spending. “This is an important step toward getting that property back into productive use,” Mayor Kapszukiewicz said in a written statement.
What remains a mystery is why it took so long, given the toxic nature of asbestos fibers, which are known to cause lung cancer and other respiratory problems. The U.S. EPA itself recognizes the dangers of asbestos, as do a number of other federal agencies, including the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Cancer Institute. The U.S. EPA said in its release that it considers the cleanup effort a “time-critical action.” Francisco Arcaute, an agency spokesman, said he was referring questions about the cleanup timeline to project officials. “Asbestos co-mingled with building debris remained strewn over five acres of the former factory site after the buildings were razed in 2012. The city of Toledo referred the site to EPA for cleanup in 2017,” according to the U.S. EPA release.
Champion Spark Plug was once one of Toledo’s most iconic businesses, founded in Boston in 1907 by Robert A. Stranahan, Sr., and his brother, Frank D. Stranahan. It relocated to Toledo in 1910, opening the Upton Avenue plant in 1912. Months after purchasing Champion for $707.5 million in 1989, Houston-based Cooper Industries Inc. shuttered most of the Upton Avenue plant, shifting work to other parts of the country.
Donzell Moore, owner of Moorhouse Real Estate Development LLC, bought the former industrial site for $1 in 2013.
In 2015, Mr. Moore was sentenced to 30 days in jail with work release, three years of community control, and 240 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a felony charge of complicity to remove asbestos without a certification or license, and a misdemeanor charge of illegal disposal of construction and demolition debris. He also was ordered to pay $25,274 toward cleanup, as well as $10,750 in fines, according to a joint statement issued that year by the Ohio EPA and the Ohio attorney general’s office.
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said at the time that Mr. Moore’s case is one that put public health at risk, acknowledging that asbestos “is a highly regulated material with special handling and disposal requirements.” Councilman Tyrone Riley said in 2015 it appears the former Champion property was purchased for the sole purpose of stripping metal from buildings, then abandoned and allowed to become a rodent-infested eyesore that encouraged illegal dumping. Mr. Moore was issued a cleanup notice for the site on July 3, 2014, after the late Mayor D. Michael Collins visited the site and saw two men dumping concrete. They claimed to have had the owner’s permission.
Mr. Moore told a local television station at the end of 2015 he was sorry for what happened and wanted to fix the site’s problems.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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