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Ohio attorney general wants Pa. company held in contempt for failing to clean up radioactive waste

Industrial building ohio valley
Glynis Board
90.5 WESA
Formerly a Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel facility, Austin Master Services located in Martin Ferry's industrial park along the Ohio River in 2015.

A small Ohio River community that is home to a hazardous waste facility is wondering what will happen now that the company that ran the facility has failed to comply with a court order to clean up excess toxic oil and gas drilling waste.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wants Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra to hold both the company Austin Master Services (AMS) and Brad Domitrovitsch, CEO of its parent corporation American Environmental Partners, Inc., in contempt for noncompliance with the order. Yost’s office is representing the state regulatory agency in charge of overseeing the facility, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In April, the Ohio Attorney General was granted a temporary restraining order against AMS, an oil and gas waste-processing facility operating in Martins Ferry, Ohio — about an hour’s drive southwest of Pittsburgh. The Belmont County Court issued the order against AMS for “egregious violations.”

In a legal complaint issued in March, Yost’s office said the amount of waste the Martins Ferry facility accepted was allowed to “far exceed its permitted storage capacity.” The request for a restraining order said AMS “allowed radioactive liquids and sludge to flow uncontained on the floor of its facility.”

The primary concern identified in the complaint is the facility’s location: It’s about 500 feet from the Ohio River and 1,000 feet from a municipal drinking water well field.

Oil and gas waste streams can contain mixtures of heavy metals, salts or brines, volatile organic compounds, and carcinogens including radioactive material. Research has linked exposure to some of these substances to reproductive and developmental problems.

"I'm increasingly concerned," said area resident and microbiologist Yuri Gorby, who has spent much of his career studying microorganisms in radioactive environments. Gorby has been collaborating with community groups concerned about AMS for several years and said he worries most about airborne pollution along roads as well as contamination of municipal water.

industrial building flood waters
Concerned Ohio River Residents
Martins Ferry was flooded by the Ohio River twice in the spring of 2024. The river crested at 42 feet; Martins Ferry officials reported it would take 45 feet for water to infiltrate the facility.

The court issued preliminary injunctive relief on April 4, just as the flooding Ohio River crested at 42 feet, bringing the river to the front doors of the facility. AMS was given until April 17, but failed to return to compliance with permits issued by ODNR.

The restraining order request filing describes how conditions at the facility rapidly deteriorated between ODNR inspections in February and March, and explained that AMS employees were “let go” in March, leaving no one to tend to liquids leaking from solid waste piles.

“Continued violations will likely cause a release of waste to the ground and surface water if the violations are not corrected in two weeks,” the attorney general’s March 25 filing read.

“The facility should have never been located where it is,” said Beverly Reed, a Martins Ferry resident and community organizer with Concerned Ohio River Residents who has been vocal about the facility’s practices and proximity to water sources for the past three years. “It's pretty much the worst-case scenario that could have happened. [AMS] took in a whole lot of waste, and now they're gone. At least that's how it appears.

The AMS facility has been dark since employees were let go on March 15, a few hours after ODNR inspectors visited, according to Yost's filings.

“The urgency of this situation cannot be overstated,” Yost said in his office’s most recent news release announcing his request to hold AMS and Domitrovitsch in contempt. “We are operating quickly to make sure contamination can be avoided, and we protect Ohioans and the waterways we share.”

WESA has been unable to reach representatives of the Canonsburg-based company or its parent company American Environmental Partners for comment. Should AMS and Domitrovitsch be held in contempt, a fine of $250 could be issued for each day the facility remains out of compliance with the court’s order to clean the site, and Domitrovitsch could be asked to report to the Belmont County Jail.

During a recent Martins Ferry city council meeting, leaders spoke about a planned letter-writing campaign to pressure state leaders and regulators to quickly clean up the facility and protect the community’s drinking water.

“What about the next flood? It's not ‘if,’ it's ‘when’ this happens again,” Reed said. “Just a couple of feet higher and the water could have been all the way inside the building.”

Glynis comes from a long line of Pittsburgh editors and has 16 years of experience reporting, producing and editing in the broadcasting industry. She holds a Master's in Education and a Bachelor of Arts from West Virginia University. She also spent a year with West Virginia University as an adjunct journalism professor.