Learning exactly what is in the water in the Bokes Creek is important, residents agreed during a special presentation to the Union County commissioners last week, but their main concern is with what's in their air.

Learning exactly what is in the water in the Bokes Creek is important, residents agreed during a special presentation to the Union County commissioners last week, but their main concern is with what's in their air.

The commissioners, amid a roomful of northern county residents, heard a preliminary report on Aug. 23 on the Union County Environmental Baseline Project, a study being conducted by Ohio State University to gather environmental data for the Bokes Creek watershed.

The study is estimated to take about five months to complete, said Tim Buckley, associate professor and chair of Ohio State University's College of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences. Buckley said the study is at about the half-way mark.

The commissioners have said that the study, which comes with a price tag of $24,961, is important to the future development of the county, as the Bokes Creek watershed flows past the site of the proposed Hi-Q egg farm and other already-operating egg farms in the county.

While the commissioners have asserted that the baseline study is not intended to hold up Hi-Q's building process, having it in place beforehand will let officials know the cause if pollution levels rise.

"Our goal is to assess the baseline environmental conditions for the Bokes Creek watershed," Buckley said during his presentation. "The rationale behind that is, that baseline will provide us the means to assess future incremental environmental changes."

Buckley said that in the first few months since the study began, he and other researchers have gathered data from the Union Soil & Water Conservation District, the county Health Department, the Ohio EPA, the Columbus Water Quality Assurance Lab and other sources.

Through that data, the study can track concentrations of ammonia, phosphorus, nitrate, and atrazine in the water. A lack of data in some areas however (in some cases the most recent samples were taken regularly 10 years ago) mean that some results just aren't clear yet, according to Buckley.

"How this compares to current conditions (in surrounding areas), I think that that answer is unknown," Buckley said. "That research needs to be conducted."

Residents voiced concerns during the meeting about air quality in the area, which they say is the real concern. Neither the study's organizers nor the Ohio EPA are set up to gather that sort of data, Buckley said.

"In general there's a lack of air quality data," he said. "We have the anecdotal complaints, but we lack the ongoing assessments of the quality of life and the effect on human health."

The EPA would be in charge of conducting any sort of air-quality testing, but there are not specific standards that would be applicable to agricultural air testing, he continued.

Commissioner Gary Lee said that he was glad the residents took part in the meeting, as a way to let the commissioners know what they think is important for the study.

"What we've heard tonight is that air quality is more of a concern than water quality to the group gathered here," Lee said. "I think we'll have to take a look at what that means and quantify it."

Commissioner Tom McCarthy said the county needs the data in place before a large business like Hi-Q comes into that area of the county. "We have limitations on what we can do, but we feel an obligation to do what we can," he said. "But if another large (business) comes in, if we don't define what the problem is today, then anyone can say that there's always been a problem."

Buckley said that the baseline study is scheduled for completion by the end of October.