If you have read the Big Blue Thread over the last year, you know our blog articles and topics don’t necessarily always focus on press worthy events of the Region. We mostly focus on day to day things, geo-spatially interesting topics, and some off the beaten path stories. However, this past week something really, really big happened in Region 7, more, specifically in the City of Omaha.
Since 1999, EPA has been working with the City of Omaha, Nebraska to identify and remove lead from residential properties , as well as public parks, playgrounds, and child care facilities. In 2003, the Omaha Lead Site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL), designating it as one of the nation’s most serious hazardous waste sites. If you are familiar with clean-up at hazardous waste sites, you know that the process can often take many years to define the nature and extent of contamination, evaluate the risks to human health and the environment, select and install remedies that will be protective, and finally remove contamination to safe levels. This makes what our Regional Administrator, Dr. Karl Brooks had to say last week in Omaha, just 10 years later, truly impressive. He announced our intention to delist the first 1,154 parcels within the Omaha Lead Superfund site.
Today’s action is a significant milestone, the first in what will be a series of similar actions by EPA in the coming years to conclude our work at this site. This step in the Superfund process begins the culmination of nearly 15 years of cooperation by EPA, contractors, the City of Omaha, Douglas County, the State of Nebraska, neighborhood organizations and local residents, to clean up toxic lead from this community.
Last weeks announcement, which was outlined in a notice published in the Federal Register, formally proposed the delisting from the NPL of 1,154 of the 11,425 properties within the Omaha Lead Site that have been cleaned up, to date. Under the National Contingency Plan, such properties that have undergone cleanup may be deleted from the NPL if it is determined that all appropriate response and remedial actions have been taken and the prior hazardous releases on those properties pose no significant threats to public health or the environment.
The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was instrumental in identifying, tracking, and maintaining information regarding the over 41,000 separate properties that were sampled, as well as the nearly 11,500 yards which have been cleaned up to date (check out the map below to get some sense of the scale). Currently there are still roughly 2,000 sampled properties with elevated levels of lead in soils remain to be cleaned up, and the Agency is working to obtain access to sample soils at another 2,300 properties.
In addition to the environmental benefits, the cleanup is also paying significant economic benefits. To date, EPA’s total investments of $279.5 million at the Omaha Lead Site have contributed to community revitalization and redevelopment, improvement of property values, local employment and economic growth. Through EPA contracts that are competed, contractors have provided more than $127 million in spending so far on local materials and local labor, adding about 300 high-paying ($23 to $30 per hour) seasonal jobs to the local economy for each of the past five years. EPA has also awarded $142,890 through a cooperative agreement to the Omaha Metropolitan Community College to provide job training and certifications to local workers, helping to build a skilled labor force to assist in the cleanup, and for future employment beyond the site.
EPA’s related investments in Omaha’s public health education and protection include cooperative agreements of $9.2 million to the City of Omaha for paint stabilization and database development, $4.5 million to the Douglas County Health Department for interior home assessments, $205,000 to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) to support its work at the Omaha Lead Site, and a $50,000 technical assistance grant to the Lead Safe Omaha Coalition. All of this work has realized real, measurable improvements in public health, with the percentage of children in eastern Omaha tested with elevated blood lead levels reduced from nearly 33 percent prior to 1998, to less than two percent today.
You can read more about the Omaha Lead Site here.