Homes cleaned of lead dust quickly recontaminated

Sunday, May 26, 2002

The Associatedss Press

HERCULANEUM, Mo. -- Interiors of homes that had been cleaned of lead dust became contaminated again within a month, in some cases at levels above government safety standards, according to tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The cleaning of homes in Herculaneum is part of a government-mandated remediation effort started a year ago by the Doe Run Co., which operates the nation's largest lead smelter in the town, 30 miles south of St. Louis.

State health officials have found that about 45 percent of children tested near the smelter have high levels of lead in their blood, a condition linked to decreased intelligence and other health problems.

"It doesn't make much difference whether a home interior becomes recontaminated in one month or three months -- it's much too soon," Bruce Morrison, the EPA official managing the cleanup, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for Saturday's editions.

While the results were preliminary, Morrison said they suggest more needs to be done to prevent exposure to lead.

Residents, however, see the tests as evidence that no cleanup effort will ever be truly effective.

"We're not surprised," said Angela Swearingen, who, with children ages 2 and 6, lives in a home the government is checking monthly for lead. "Until Doe Run can completely stop contaminating the area, contamination in the houses can't stop."

Also testing soil

Barbara Shepard, Doe Run's vice president of community affairs, said the EPA results represent only a small collection of data.

"We don't have enough information to come to any conclusion yet," Shepard said. "It's an issue that needs to be looked at more, and then we go from there to find a solution."

Morrison said the EPA is also testing soil at houses where yards contaminated with lead were dug up and replaced, and those tests have not found any significant lead buildup.

The agency does not know how the recontamination was happening inside the homes.

"The dust we're finding could be coming up out of the carpet or it could be something being tracked into the house," Morrison said.

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