Following articles in USA Today showing that many American families live--often unknowingly--near potentially contaminated former lead smelter sides, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) led a group of six senators in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move quickly to address and remediate residual lead contamination. According to the USA Today, "tests in neighborhoods near former lead factories showed dirt so contaminated that children shouldn't be playing in it. The soil tests revealed potentially dangerous lead levels in areas of all 21 neighborhoods examined in 13 states."
"These former lead smelter sites may no longer exist, but as USA Today has revealed, residual contamination continues to pervade many communities in Ohio and across America," Brown said. "Many of these former smelter sites are near schools and playgrounds, which is particularly disturbing given that lead poisoning poses a serious public health risk for infants and small children. The EPA must move quickly to ensure that Ohioans living near these sites are aware of the potential hazards, and to place these sites on a high priority list for remediation."
In Ohio, USA Today examined sites in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas; former factory sites also exist near Columbus. In Cleveland, for instance, soil testing found lead levels near a smelter site to exceed 3,400 ppm (parts per million). The average lead level in U.S. soils is just 19 ppm. USA Today's full investigation can be found here.
The letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was also signed by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN). The full text of the letter is below.
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
Dear Administrator Jackson:
We write in regard to a recent series of articles in USA Today (attached) highlighting the public health risks associated with high levels of residual lead contamination in communities across the nation. The article suggested that many individuals are exposed to elevated lead concentrations--well above allowable safe levels for children--because they unknowingly purchased or are renting homes on or adjacent to former lead smelter sites. In many instances, lead contamination is a vestige of unregulated metal smelting during the first half of the 20th century.
In communities across the country, lead smelting factories that were closed, demolished, or repurposed decades ago, today pose a threat to the children who live near them. In many cases, records of these smelters have been difficult to obtain and families with young children have unsuspectingly allowed children to be exposed to higher than recommended lead levels. Soil tests performed as part of the USA Today investigation revealed that dangerous levels of lead were found in 21 neighborhoods tested across 13 states.
The relative contribution of lead pollution in soils from smelters and other sources in urban areas remains an open question. It was suggested, in the article, that EPA was made aware of these legacy sites in 2001 and in some cases regional offices that were directed to test legacy sites either lacked the funds to do so or, unfortunately, did not communicate this possible concern to local public health or environmental officials. Better answers to public health concerns and ways to address necessary clean up issues are needed to ensure that families can rest assured that their neighborhoods are safe for their children.
We urge you to take immediate action to review unassessed sites to determine priority locations for remediation, such as those near schools or playgrounds. It is necessary to ensure that people living near these sites, especially children, are safe. Restoring sites to a level that protects human health and the environment is essential.
We appreciate your attention to this very important matter.