Whitwell Elementary School

Completed in 1959 and closed in 2009, it was sold by the Ironton
City Schools Board of Education to the owner of Southern Ohio
Salvage and Contracting, Jack Hager, for $125,000. On top of the
$125k the school board received for the property they saved an
additional $30,000 they would have had to contribute in demolition
costs. Over the summer of ‘09 Whitwell was selected as one of seven
schools in Ohio by the EPA as a testing site for potential health
concerns from toxic air pollutants. The EPA tests mainly focused on
two harmful chemicals, benzene and benzo(a)pyrene. The preliminary
figures showed the level of key hazardous pollutants “well below
levels of short term concern” the EPA stated. An estimated $50,000 of
damage occurred in the spring of 2011 when persons unknown broke
into the building and stole copper piping and metal. Most of the
destruction was from water damage, “They cut into a main line into
the bathroom and water ran into the bathroom for who knows how
long, maybe three weeks,” Hager said. In 2012 The Ironton Zoning
Appeals Board refused to approve developer Jack Hager’s plan to
turn the former school into a 20-unit apartment complex for seniors
and veterans. They cited that it was made perfectly clear what the
building could be used for when it was put up for bid – no apartments.
The above photos were taken toward the end of last summer and it
seemed like very little had been done to the building in terms of renovation.



Audrey Trufant Salvant’s father is buried less than 50 feet from her front door, in a little mausoleum that sits like an ornament in her yard. As we walk towards it, we pass no fence, road, or anything else to signify that we’ve left her property and entered a communal gravesite. She stops a few feet before the tomb and begins to speak above the wind of a coming storm that passes through the scattered single-wides of the town. Her family, she explains, has been living in Ironton for five generations. “This is home for me,” she says. “My dad’s buried here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Ironton is a tiny working class black community, just three large blocks spread out along the natural levee of the Mississippi River in the coastal parish of Plaquemines. There are perhaps 60 standing structures in the whole town, many of them mobile homes placed among the devastated ruins of Hurricane Isaac. Standing at the grave, Audrey boasts about the pastoral appeal of the town. We glance around and see small homes, thick woods just upriver, and open fields that run along the distant highway. A slim boy in sportsman’s camo hikes his way over the nearby levee to hunt the batture woods along the Mississippi River. A neighbor nods to us as he washes his car. For all the industry that’s encroaching on this hidden place, you’d never know it just by looking.

The Phillips 66 Alliance oil refinery is located less than two miles upriver; and the Myrtle Grove Midstream Terminal—a mid-river grain elevator—less than two miles towards the coast. A coal export terminal, characterized by massive piles of exposed coal, is three miles downriver. United Bulk, another enormous open air terminal, is right across the river from that. On rainy days, pet coke and coal runs visibly from these terminal sites and into nearby ditches and waterways. Scott Eustis, an environmental wetlands specialist who oversees coastal use permits for the Gulf Restoration Network, captured this image, showing coal runoff making its way into the Mississippi River. On dry days, the wind catches sheets of pulverized mineral dust from the massive piles that sit bare along the river and spreads them for miles around. A film of grain, coal, and particulate from other surrounding industries is evident everywhere in Ironton: on cars, on porches, and inside homes. This dust, many environmentalists and residents worry, contributes to asthma rates in the community.

After returning to Audrey’s house, we settle around her dining room table as she laments the coal-dust piles, smoke stacks, and grain elevators that surround her community on all sides. “We feel that it’s environmental racism,” she says after a pause. “You don’t see this kind of thing anywhere else in the parish other than black communities. I mean,” she stands up to run her finger along the chandelier that hangs above the table, and holds out her hand to reveal a thick cake of dark grey dust on her fingertip, “I justed dusted this thing last week.”

And the situation, she fears, may soon get worse. In 2011, RAM Terminals LLC bought 602 acres of land just north of Ironton with the goal of building yet another coal exporting facility, significantly increasing the amount of coal surrounding the community. Air monitoring by community members indicates that the air particulate pollution levels in and around Ironton are already higher than what is deemed safe by international standards. There is tangible anxiety that the construction of yet another open-air coal terminal will only continue this trend.

RAM also plans the extension of a local railroad line to make transportation faster and easier. This would mean open coal cars traveling throughout Plaquemines Parish, potentially contributing to the dust and overall air pollution. The company and the local government have not yet decided where the new rail line will go, but during a community meeting convened to discuss the plan, two of the three options presented to the community would have the train routed directly through the heart of Ironton, yards away from residences.

As this drama plays out in the small Louisiana parish of Plaquemines, domestic and international demand priorities within the coal industry are shifting. The U.S. is slowly phasing out coal-fired power plants, while coal consumption in other regions of the globe is on the rise. Coal is one of the cheapest energy sources available, and many developing nations argue that it is the fastest way to modernize their infrastructure and bring power to their population. Rapid industrialization in Asia, especially in China and India, means that the long-term survival of the U.S. coal industry is increasingly linked to consumers thousands of miles away.

Read more and hear from Ironton residents in Part 2.

* * *

Darin Acosta has spent his entire life exploring and documenting the wetlands, oil infrastructure and forgotten blight of South Louisiana and studied urban and environmental planning at the University of New Orleans. Breonne DeDecker was born near the headwaters of the Mississippi River and now resides at the end of it. She has degrees in photography and sustainable development. 

Their current work, The Airline is a Very Long Road, is an experimental biography of Louisiana, which you can find at


Please take a moment to watch the video, etc.

Our city has alot of problems. Drug addiction, alcoholism, economic depression, poverty…this past week, a number of churches in the area (not just our city) came together to put Old Testament methods into practice. It was called The Joshua Walk. The city’s 11 mile perimeter was broken up into ¼ mile increments to be walked once a day for 6 days. On the 7th day, it was walked 7 times. Those who couldn’t walk it, drove the perimeter. It was an amazing experience. When it was suggested, some people thought we were crazy. Our city has always had alot of tension between church groups, but for this event, nearly all the churches in the city came together for something bigger. Christians, Baptists, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholics, Apostolic, Pentecostal…it was amazing. And God definitely showed up. We prayed for the city’s problems. We prayed for change. We prayed for each other.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.

                          2 Chronicles 7:14

So if you’ve got a minute, take the time to watch it. I don’t think there was a single person there who wasn’t touched by the event.


Ironton Iron Incorporated (Pt I)

Ironton Iron Inc. was an iron casting company that manufactured iron ductile castings primarily for the transportation industry. Originally built in 1908 as the Ironton Malleable Iron Company. The plant covered an area of 25 acres and an annual production of 70,000 tons of castings were made. In 1916 it was
acquired by the Dayton Malleable Iron Company and then by the Amcast
Industrial Corporation after that. Over the years Amcast faced several EPA violations for the toxic waste disposal site that it shared in Ironton with Allied Chemical known as the Goldcamp Disposal Area. Amcast used the disposal site along with Allied from 1945 until Allied closed the site in 1977. In 1983 the EPA added Goldcamp to the National Priorities List for Superfund cleanups. Many years later Allied sued Amcast to recover half the cost of an estimated $20 million-plus cleanup of the former Goldcamp Disposal Area, which according to court documents, Amcast never paid it’s share. Lengthy court battles followed for years. The Goldcamp disposal site was not the only environmental litigation Amcast has faced. 

In April of 1984 Amcast decided to close the Ironton plant putting over
600 employees out of work. Two months later the former employees  
met with a consultant about the possibility of reopening the plant with it
being operated under an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). As part of
that plan the former workers would have to buy at least $2,000 worth of
stock in the new company, now to be known as Ironton Iron Inc. The plant
operated for about four years after that but it simply could not turn a profit.
In 1988 the shareholders agreed to let the company be acquired by another
iron company, Intermet. Part of that agreement was that the
employee-stockholders would get their initial investment of $2,000 back once the plant turned a profit, but it never did. In December of 1999 Intermet announced plans to close the Ironton plant the following year due to consistent financial losses. In addition, the Ironton plant was one of Intermet’s oldest facilities and the cost of modernization would have further impacted weak operating results. “The decision to close the Ironton Iron foundry was an extremely difficult one for us,” said James F. Mason, group vice president for Intermet. “Intermet has been working for years to make this plant efficient. We invested over $100 million in the plant and lost every penny of it, and more. We feel that all avenues were explored, but unfortunately, the loss of business dictated the eventual outcome of our efforts." 

In the later part of 2000 Intermet leveled most of the Ironton site. As common with most old plant sites, issues with environmental contamination has prevented the site from being redeveloped. In 2007 the property was set for a year long $2.5 million cleanup project funded by the Ohio Department of Development that would make the property viable for the city of Ironton. Intermet was to turn over ownership of the property to the city once the property was cleaned up. A couple of companies expressed interest in the property once cleanup was to be completed but now eight years later the site still sits empty with only a few reminders of it’s previous occupants.
BMV testings site closures would save money

Nearly half of Ohio’s 79 driver’s license testing stations including eight in Southeast Ohio would close and some would be replaced by regional “super stations,” under a state proposal obtained by a newspaper through a public records request.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the recommendation put together by State Highway Patrol Capt. Carl Roark would save about $706,000 a year.

Testing sites in our region which could close include: McArthur, Gallipolis, Waverly, Ironton, Middleport, Malta, Woodsfield and Caldwell.

Read more from WOUB News.
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