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People Living Near The Mill Creek Want 'Environmental Justice'

Ann Thompson
Pamela Woods, a South Cumminsville resident, in front of her house. She doesn't want her neighborhood to be forgotten when it comes to clean-up and development.

Clearing once-contaminated sites along the Mill Creek and redeveloping them is a slow and expensive process. For those who live in communities like South Cumminsville, North Fairmount, South Fairmont, English Woods and Millville, the clean-up can't come fast enough.

The Mill Creek runs behind Pamela Woods' backyard where just a few miles away, the 112-year-old Lunkenheimer Valve Company still stands as an abandoned building. In 2019, the EPA removed hazardous waste from the site.

Woods and her friend Midge Jackson are having a hard time being patient. "If they're not going to tear the place down, they're not doing anything to unify it," says Jackson. "The windows are busted out... It's a hazard." 

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
The U.S. EPA's Steve Renninger oversaw the hazardous waste clean-up at Lunkenheimer after the Cincinnati Fire Department warned of the danger.

They were glad to hear The Port is in the very early stages of trying to acquire Lunkenheimer, tear it down and redevelop the site. Since its founding, the economic development agency says it has cleaned up more than 250 acres, impacting nearly 50 properties in Hamilton County. But more than 1,300 vacant industrial properties in the Mill Creek Valley remain.

Woods watches other neighborhoods like Avondale and Walnut Hills get new development. "Why are they not coming here? Is it because we are low-income and people feel like we don't have a lot here and we don't care about the environment? But we do," she says.

A recent South Cumminsville survey found that 70% of residents, like Woods, live within a block of a brownfield site (potential or actual contamination) and asthma rates are four times higher for children.

Issues like these come up when the South Cumminsville Community Council and the Beekman Corridor group meet monthly.

According to the Department of Energy, environmental justice is:

"The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations; and policies. Meaningful involvement requires effective access to decision makers for all, and the ability in all communities to make informed decisions and take positive actions to produce environmental justice for themselves."

How The Port Is Addressing Environmental Justice

The Port is trying to level the playing field for disproportionately impacted low-income neighborhoods, according to Executive Vice President Melissa Johnson. "We come across the need to correct the environmental kind of past uses. By doing that we're also working to eliminate the continued exposure."

It's unclear how quickly The Port will be able to make progress on the Lunkenheimer site. The clean-up for Dow Chemical in Reading may come sooner. The issue of contaminated groundwater remains and the courts are still evaluating other issues like mercury contamination. The Port looks for movement on some of these issues in the next six months.

The economic development agency produced this piece:

The projects are costly. The EPA gave The Port an $800,000 grant. Getting the Dow Chemical site ready could cost $7 million.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.