by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
The name, Ashtabula, is Algonquian, or Iroquois, in origin, referring to the river which flows into Lake Erie through the small city of the same name. The name means, “river of many fishes.”
The watershed system, which feeds the Ashtabula, includes the West Branch and East Branch of the Ashtabula, Ashtabula Creek, Strong Brook and Fields Brook. A watershed includes sources of water which meet.
The Ashtabula River is one of three, designated as scenic in the county, more than any other county in Ohio. Along its journey woodlands of mixed oak, hemlock-beech hardwood forest, among other species, abound. Land owners are credited for their stewardship for lands, which are also home to black bear and bald eagle.
Beginning in the 1940s, industry began moving onto the lands which comprise the watershed of the Ashtabula River. The contiguous watershed of Fields Brook was one of these.
The six square-mile watershed eventually hosted 19 facilities. Manufacturing ranged from metals-fabrication to chemicals production. Fields Brook flows into the Ashtabula River approximately 1-1/2 miles downstream of the site. Industry left the area some time ago, but left behind its mark in closed complexes, now overgrown with weeds.
A google search of the areas impacted reveal sites from the EPA and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which cite possible radiological contamination. Another citing notes that the RMI Extrusion Plant, a subsidiary of Reactive Metals, Inc., as a subcontractor to the Department of Energy. This plant was located in the northeastern corner of Ashtabula County, Ohio, approximately three miles east of the center of the city of Ashtabula.
Studies note that the lands surrounding these facilities are residential, and expected to continue to be used by families, who live and raise their families in Ashtabula.
Apparently, in 1986 the same governmental body, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry prepared a public health assessment regarding the Fields Brook.
The record reflects clean ups were attempted.
When I asked a friend, who was born in Ashtabula, why nothing more had been done she told me people were afraid they would lose their jobs at the plants. She recalled the father of a friend, who worked there as an engineer, dying of cancer at an unusually young age.
Soil is permeated by water. As part of the watershed, water continues its flow. As the waters flowed in 1811, so they flow today.