Following a series of reports in USA Today revealing dangerously high levels of residual lead contamination near a former smelter site in Cleveland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Ken Shefton, a father of five who previously lived close to the former smelter site, to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ohio EPA to move quickly to address and clean up residual lead contamination. In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Brown urged the federal agency to move quickly to address and clean up residual lead contamination, as well as take steps to educate families living near the former smelter sites about the possible danger. Brown also released a letter today to Scott Nally, Director of the Ohio EPA, to request an update on the status of remediation efforts at the remaining sites and if there will be renewed efforts to clean up the areas surrounding them.
Following the release of USA Today report, Mr. Shefton and his family--like many families, unaware that such contamination pervaded their neighborhood--moved out of their home. Dr. Karl Hess, a retired Shaker Heights pediatrician with an expertise in lead poisoning, also joined Sen. Brown to discuss the impact of lead poisoning on infants and children.
"As parents, we can never fully protect our children from the outside world--but the last thing families should have to worry about is their child contracting lead poisoning just from playing outside," Brown said. "As a father and grandfather, I was disturbed by recent reports about the terrible legacy that former lead smelter plants have left behind. What's even more worrying is that many families didn't even know this threat existed," Brown said. "That's why I am urging the federal government to take action--to work with the Ohio EPA to review sites that have not yet been tested, and then move to clean up residual contamination."
Brown was also joined today by Robin Brown, parent representative on the Healthy Homes Advisory Council of Greater Cleveland and founder of Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead, an organization she started that helps people learn about lead poisoning and what they must do to protect their children. Her daughter, Charmayne, was diagnosed at age 4 with life-threatening lead levels. Charmayne, now age 17, had to endure painful treatments to recover from the lead poisoning.
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." In Ohio, USA Today examined sites in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas; former factory sites also exist near Columbus. In Cleveland, 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.
Brown has also called on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to hold hearings regarding the former lead smelter sites.
The letter to the U.S. EPA is below, followed by the letter to the Ohio EPA.
Ms. Lisa Jackson
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.