EPA readies for removal of lead-contaminated soil

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

FREDERICKTOWN, Mo. -- The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it will begin removing yard soil and driveways in Fredericktown that are contaminated with lead from mine tailings, and it will continue to test more properties for trouble spots.

The federal agency, along with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, also will host a public meeting tonight to gauge public sentiment for nominating Fredericktown to the National Priorities List for major cleanup.

The Madison County town, about 51 miles northwest of Cape Girardeau, is straddled along Southeast Missouri's old lead belt. Lead mining drove the region's economy for 300-plus years, but its residue is poisoning some of its youngest residents.

Last year, the EPA tested 215 residential properties in Fredericktown for lead contamination. The testing came after the county Health Department found elevated blood-lead levels in children since 1996.

Contaminated chat

Of the 215 properties screened for lead in soil, 92 showed lead levels higher than the 400 parts per million the EPA considers acceptable. Of the 92, 42 showed signs of visible mine waste or "chat" in the driveway or yard.

Many Fredericktown properties with high lead readings use chat, the coarse waste from the milling process. The cheap material is used commonly in driveways, foundations, gardens, even sand boxes.

EPA regional project manager John Cook in Kansas City said the preliminary spot checks confirmed the lead contamination was serious enough to warrant continued 1testing of additional properties.

Among places to be tested are city parks, playgrounds, day-care centers, properties where there are young children or kids with high blood-lead levels, or homes whose owners ask for testing.

Starting in February or March, EPA will begin removing contaminated soil and driveways and replace them with clean material.

Fredericktown residents will have a chance to express their thoughts tonight on the wisdom of nominating the community to the EPA's National Priorities List.

The list is a subgroup of Superfund sites that require more immediate cleanup and are more likely to receive federal funding.

As DNR's Robert Hinkson explains it, some communities fear being placed on the list will be a stigma, reducing property values and discouraging business. "It doesn't have to be that way," said Hinkson, an environmental specialist. "The response of the community largely determines whether good or bad things happen."

Of the 1,200 sites on the National Priorities List, 23 are in Missouri.

At least two in Missouri involve mining operations -- one in Jasper County, where Joplin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state, he said. The other is the Big River Mine tailing site in St. Francois County, not far from Fredericktown.

The regional EPA office is asking the state to concur that Fredericktown should be on the list. Before the community can be nominated as a candidate for the list, it must have the recommendation of the Department of Natural Resources and the governor.

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