Friday, March 03, 2017

Lead Paint Problems In Pre-1978-Built Homes May Pale In Comparison To Soil Contamination In Yards Throughout Rust Belt; Long-Forgotten & Years-Ago Demolished Smelters May Be Gone, But Hazards Of Tainted Soil Often Linger

In Cleveland, Ohio, USA Today reports:
  • Ken Shefton is furious about what the government knew eight years ago and never told him — that the neighborhood where his five sons have been playing is contaminated with lead.

    Their Cleveland home is a few blocks from a long-forgotten factory that spewed toxic lead dust for about 30 years.(1)

    The Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators clearly knew of the danger. They tested soil throughout the neighborhood and documented hazardous levels of contamination. They never did a cleanup. They didn't warn people living nearby that the tainted soil endangers their children.

    "I needed to know that," Shefton said. "I've got a couple of kids that don't like to do nothing but roll around in the dirt."

    More than a decade ago, government regulators received specific warnings that the soil in hundreds of U.S. neighborhoods might be contaminated with dangerous levels of lead from factories operating in the 1930s to 1960s, including the smelter near Shefton's house, Tyroler Metals, which closed around 1957.

    Despite warnings, federal and state officials repeatedly failed to find out just how bad the problems were. A 14-month USA TODAY investigation has found that the EPA and state regulators left thousands of families and children in harm's way, doing little to assess the danger around many of the more than 400 potential lead smelter locations on a list compiled by a researcher from old industry directories and given to the EPA in 2001.

    In some cases, government officials failed to order cleanups when inspectors detected hazardous amounts of lead in local neighborhoods. People who live nearby — sometimes directly on top of — old smelters were not warned, left unaware in many cases of the factories' existence and the dangers that remain. Instead, they bought and sold homes and let their children play in contaminated yards.
    In April 2001, environmental scientist William Eckel published a research article in the American Journal of Public Health warning about the dangers of old smelting factories.(2) While working on his Ph.D. dissertation, Eckel had identified a historical smelting site unknown to federal and state regulators and wondered how many other sites had been forgotten over time, their buildings demolished or absorbed by other businesses.

    Eckel used old industry directories, which he cross-referenced with EPA databases, to come up with a list of more than 400 potential lead-smelting sites that appeared to be unknown to federal regulators.

    Eckel confirmed that 20 of the sites' addresses were factories — and not just business offices — using Sanborn fire insurance maps, which detail the historical uses of individual pieces of property. An additional 86 sites were specifically listed in directories as "plant" locations. He paid to have soil samples tested from three sites in Baltimore and five in Philadelphia. All but one of the samples exceeded the EPA's residential hazard level for lead in areas where children play.

    Eckel's article warned that the findings "should create some sense of urgency for the investigation of the other sites identified here because they may represent a significant source of exposure to lead in their local environments." The research indicates "a significant fraction" of the forgotten sites will require cleanups — likely at state and federal expense — because most of the companies went out of business long ago.
For more, see Ghost Factories-Poison In The Ground: Long-gone lead factories leave poisons in nearby yards.
(1) According to the story:
  • Most of the nation's lead factories — some huge manufacturing complexes and others tiny storefront melting shops — had been largely shuttered by the 1970s and 1980s. Often known as smelters, they emitted thousands of pounds of lead and other toxic metal particles into the air as they melted down batteries and other products containing lead.

    The particles would land on nearby properties, potentially mixing with lead dust from automobile exhaust or paint chips — significant sources, says the government — to create a hazard. Children who play in lead-contaminated soil, sticking dust-covered hands or toys in their mouths, over time can suffer lost intelligence and other irreversible health problems.

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