Human Health

From My Lake to All Lakes: EPA’s National Lake Assessment

By Sarah Lehmann

As I do every year, this summer I spent my vacation on my favorite lake – Rainy Lake.  Rainy is a 228,000-acre lake harboring more than 2,200 islands; it straddles the U.S./Canada border between Minnesota and Ontario.  For me, it’s a place for family and friends to get together and fish, swim, watch wildlife, pick wild blueberries and generally relax without the buzz of cell phones, email, or internet.

This year we had an especially large gathering of family and friends.  We all enjoyed fishing for walleye, northern pike and small mouth bass — and then eating our fresh catch within hours; jumping off “High Rock” into the lake below; seeing bald eagles fly overhead; and hearing the haunting sounds of loons call in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to EPA’s recently published National Lakes Assessment, four out of ten lakes in the U.S. suffer from nutrient pollution.  Excess levels of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, wastewater and even airborne industrial discharges can cause drops in dissolved oxygen and harmful algal blooms. These conditions pose a threat to fish and wildlife, as well as human health. The assessment also finds an association between excess nutrient levels and degraded communities of biological organisms such as the small aquatic insects that are an important part of the lake food chain.

Here at EPA, we are working with our federal, state and local partners to reduce nutrient pollution through a mix of regulatory and voluntary programs.  Just a few of these actions include working with states to identify waters impacted by nutrient pollution and develop plans to restore waters by limiting nutrient inputs; supporting efforts by landowners to adopt stream and shoreline buffers that slow erosion and protect waters from nutrient overload; and providing funding for the construction and upgrading of municipal wastewater facilities.

My grandparents purchased this rustic Rainy Lake getaway for my family more than 40 years ago.  I know that our ability to enjoy this amazing gift – and to pass it down in the same condition to future generations – depends on maintaining the lake’s clean water and healthy, natural shorelines.  The National Lakes Assessment provides information we can use to protect and restore all the Rainy Lakes around the country that are so precious to us all.  To learn more, please visit the National Lakes Assessment website including our innovative interactive dashboard to delve into additional findings and learn more about your conditions in your region.

About the author:  Sarah Lehmann works in the USEPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds and is the team leader for the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS).  The recently released National Lakes Assessment  is the latest in the NARS series. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water Challenges Are Actually Opportunities

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Our nation needs to talk more about the future of water, which I believe is one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country. This is a moment of opportunity – to drive smart, equitable, resilient investments to modernize our aging water infrastructure; to invent and build the water technologies of the future; and to protect our precious water resources. To seize this opportunity, we need urgent and sustained action at all levels of government and from all sectors of the economy.

It is time to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities.

We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.

This shift presents tremendous opportunities – to revitalize communities, to grow businesses and jobs, to improve public health. But to achieve it, we must make water a top national priority – and we need to be bold and revolutionary.

We need to drive innovation across all dimensions of the water sector: in technology, finance, management, and regulation.

We all see how science, technology, and innovation are opening new frontiers, fueling the economy, and changing our world. We must incubate this change in the water sector as well because both the challenges and the opportunities are vast.

For example, consider that the nation’s wastewater facilities discharge approximately 9.5 trillion gallons of wastewater per year. Utilities are increasingly turning to technologies and approaches that foster greater reuse of water and recovery of resources that were previously discarded as waste.

Look at Orange County, California, where they are generating over 100 million gallons per day of recycled water. Instead of just discharging that water into the Pacific Ocean, that ultrapure water is used to replenish groundwater in Anaheim, injected in wells in Fountain Valley to ward off saltwater intrusion, and as an indirect source of tap water to 2.5 million people in the county.

Another example is the opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable generation, key areas for our planet’s long-term sustainability. The water facilities nationwide account for as much as 4 percent of national electricity consumption, costing about $4 billion a year. Now we see utilities producing energy instead – while slashing costs and carbon emissions at the same time.

Look at Gresham, Oregon, where the wastewater plant has become a net zero facility – using biogas generators and solar panels to produce more energy than it needs. Not only is that saving city taxpayers half a million dollars per year, but last year the city also earned $250,000 from fees local restaurants are paying to drop off fats, oils and grease.

There are similar opportunities to use technology for improving water monitoring, for constructing green infrastructure, for building resilience to climate change, for treating drinking water, and for recovering nutrients before they enter waterways.

These opportunities to harness innovative technology aren’t just good for public health and the environment – they can be enormous economic drivers.

In 2015, the global market for environmental technologies goods and services was more than $1 trillion. The United States environmental technologies industry exported $51.2 billion in goods and services. This same industry supports an estimated 1.6 million jobs here in the U.S.

So the soundbite that protecting the environment is bad for the economy is just patently false. It’s actually the opposite.

As our nation heads into a time of transition, we need to remember that water is a nonpartisan issue. We all depend on clean and reliable water – our families, our communities, our businesses, our society.

So, it should come as no surprise that in a Gallup poll last spring, people were asked about their environmental concerns – pollution of drinking water and pollution of rivers and lakes were the top two concerns… people care about water.

To confront the challenges we face and seize this moment of opportunity, we have to work together – all levels of government, all sectors of the economy, every community. Right now, water is an all-hands-on-deck issue.

P.S.: I’m confident that our country can succeed. Look how far we come. EPA has released an interactive storymap that highlights some of the most significant progress made since 2009. I encourage you to explore the storymap to see where EPA worked near you and to read about some of the biggest steps taken toward clean and reliable water for the American people.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Proposes Financial Requirements for Clean-Up at Hardrock Mining Facilities

By Mathy Stanislaus

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as the Superfund law) protects human health and the environment by managing the cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated lands and by responding to locally and nationally significant environmental emergencies. To further CERCLA’s mission, we are proposing a rule that will reduce taxpayer costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities.

Historically, hardrock-mining facilities have generated large quantities of hazardous substances, often over hundreds of square miles. In some instances, releases have resulted in groundwater and surface water contamination that require long-term management and treatment, which can be costly. For example, between 2010 and 2014 alone, EPA spent $1.1 billion in removal and remedial response costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities, and taxpayer funds contributed to much of this amount. This has been the case for decades, with industry players leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for environmental cleanups.

It’s time for a change. Our latest proposed rulemaking ensures that future polluters are better prepared to pay. Under the rule, owners and operators at certain hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities would be required to make financial arrangements that address the risks from hazardous substances at these facilities. Additionally, they would still have to pay the agreed-upon amount if the company closes its doors.

Specifically, owners and operators of facilities subject to the proposed rule would be required to:

  • Use the formula provided in the rule to calculate a level of financial responsibility for their facility, and provide supporting documentation for their calculation;
  • Obtain a means of covering this financial responsibility through insurance, guarantee, surety bond, letter of credit, qualification as a self-insurer, or any combination of these instruments to demonstrate to EPA that they have obtained such evidence of financial responsibility; and
  • Update and maintain the rule until EPA releases them from the CERCLA §108(b) regulations.

This proposal, was developed after extensive consultation with stakeholders, including small and large businesses, industry groups, environmental groups, and state and tribal governments.

These requirements are not meant to duplicate existing financial responsibility requirements. EPA’s proposed CERCLA 108(b) regulations will be stand-alone financial responsibility requirements that address CERCLA liability. There are significant differences between these requirements and other existing requirements for hardrock mining facilities. In particular:

  • the proposed rule does not include technical requirements regulating the operation, closure, or reclamation of hardrock mining facilities;
  • the proposed rule does not provide financial responsibility to ensure closure or reclamation requirements made applicable to hardrock mining  facilities through a permit;
  • the proposed rule is not intended to preempt state or local mining reclamation and closure requirements; and
  • the proposed rule is distinct from federal closure and reclamation bonding requirements imposed under other statutes.
  • Facilities that apply environmentally protective practices, including those required by other regulations, may be able to reduce their required amount of CERCLA 108(b) financial responsibility.

Additionally, we are publishing a notice describing the Agency’s plan to consider financial assurance requirements under CERCLA for three additional industries:

  • Chemical manufacturing;
  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution; and
  • Petroleum and coal products.

The notice is not a determination that regulatory financial assurance requirements are necessary. We will evaluate a broad range of options in consultation with stakeholders including state and tribal governments, industry groups, and environmental groups before making such determinations. Our future activities will consist of information collection regarding each sector and an evaluation of the modern practices of these industries.This rule, and the consideration of others for additional industries, all starts with our fundamental desire to prevent the same kind of environmental contamination that has been plaguing American lands and dipping into taxpayer pockets for decades.

A pre-publication version of the proposed rulemaking is available at:
https://www.epa.gov/superfund/pre-publication-copy-proposed-financial-responsibility-requirements-under-cercla-section

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Working Together to Test Our Resiliency and Protect Our Critical Infrastructure

By Nitin Natarajan

Recently, I attended a full scale exercise hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) to test their emergency preparedness and resilience in a number of scenarios. As part of this exercise, federal, state, local and industry partners gathered to discuss the potential risks to critical infrastructure due to climate change, such as:

  • increased temperatures,
  • sea level rise,
  • decreased permafrost,
  • increased heavy precipitation events, and the
  • increased frequency of wildfires

We also discussed steps that the energy sector has and will be undertaking to address those risks. Without proper protections and effective restoration, the presence of uncontrolled hazardous substances in surface water, groundwater, air, soil and sediment can cause human health concerns, threaten healthy ecosystems, and inhibit economic opportunities on and adjacent to contaminated properties.

At EPA, we strive to protect the environment from contamination through sustainable materials management and the proper management of waste and petroleum products. We work with our partners to prepare for and respond to environmental emergencies should they occur.  We also work collaboratively with states, tribes, and local governments to clean up communities and create a safer environment for all Americans.

However, climate change is posing new challenges to OLEM’s ability to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. This is why we need to show leadership and take actions to make our programs more resilient now and in the future. We have developed climate change adaptation plans that describe what we’re doing and what we plan to do to address these challenges. We have also developed a climate change training program to make certain that our staff and other stakeholders are aware of the ways that climate change poses challenges to our ability to fulfill our mission.

For example, our Brownfields program has developed checklists to support community efforts to consider climate as part of their cleanup and area-wide planning activities.  And our Superfund program has developed fact sheets on adapting remediation activities to the impacts from climate change.

Additionally, our Office of Land and Emergency Management is working on:

  • incorporating climate change into future flood risks for contaminated sites,
  • linking renewable energy installations sited on contaminated lands with critical infrastructure, and
  • providing guidance on considering the effects of climate change in the land revitalization process.

As we look at investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure, we need to begin looking at smarter investments that take climate change into account and how we can build to more resilient standards.

I’d like to thank those who set up and participated in the SCE exercise. The exercise and the roundtable discussion among federal, state, local and private sector officials showed me how important these steps are to continue to protect our nation’s lands and people in a collaborative manner and how these steps help protect the nation’s critical infrastructure. While many of these changes are half a century away, improving our nation’s resilience will not occur in months or years. Some efforts, including further enhancements to the electrical grid, will take decades. There is hard work to be done now to help ensure the future protection of human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Retail Strategy: A New Focus on Hazardous Waste Regulations

By Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus

America’s hazardous waste management program ensures the safe management of hazardous waste from the “cradle to the grave”. Many of these regulations were developed more than three decades ago, so it is important we ensure they continue to effectively protect human health and environment into the future.

These regulations were developed primarily for industrial and manufacturing settings, but apply to any non-household facility generating and managing hazardous waste—including some facilities that may surprise people. For example, hospitals, schools, and retail stores all generate hazardous waste and are subject to our regulations. However, because these types of facilities aren’t industrial in nature, sometimes the design of the hazardous waste regulations can pose compliance challenges. In recent years, we began to explore how we can update these important safeguards for a retail setting and address the potential challenges these regulations present for retail.

An orange prescription bottle lies on its side with its white cap next to it. Small pills spill out from the bottle.You might not think of consumer goods at retail stores as especially hazardous, but some household cleaners, automotive products, batteries and other items meet the definition of hazardous waste when disposed. These goods are important parts of our everyday lives and may require special disposal when they are no longer able to be sold. We want to ensure that these items, if they are not sold and must be disposed, are managed safely and properly.

Recently, EPA and other regulators focused increased attention on the retail sector. Instances of hazardous waste mismanagement and non-compliance by major retailers led us to seek information and solicit feedback by issuing a Retail Notice of Data Availability (NODA) in 2014. Feedback on the NODA, as well as information gathered from our continued engagement with the retail sector and regulatory community, not only increased our understanding of how retailers handle consumer goods that cannot be sold but also shed light on the challenges retailers face when managing goods that are hazardous wastes when disposed.

I’m excited to announce that we are unveiling a cohesive strategy to address these unique issues and to ensure that retail stores comply with hazardous waste regulations. This strategy takes into account the feedback we received in 2014, as well as our knowledge of how unsalable items are managed in the retail sector. It builds upon regulatory efforts underway, including proposed updates and improvements to existing hazardous waste generator regulations and a proposed set of regulations designed to allow flexibility in the management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals.

As laid out in the strategy, we’ve taken these actions to ease the burden of managing hazardous wastes in a retail setting while maintaining important protections to human health and the environment, and furthering the President’s goal of reducing regulatory burden across the government (EO 13610). The strategy outlines our next steps, which include:

  • issuing the final generator rule in fall 2016;
  • working on finalizing the pharmaceuticals rule;
  • issuing a guide on recycling aerosol cans;
  • proposing a universal waste rule for aerosol cans; and
  • issuing a policy on reverse distribution and RCRA.

This retail strategy is an important next step in our journey to explore options for reducing management burdens, ensuring compliance with hazardous waste regulations and protecting human health and the environment. Our strategy is available at http://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/hazardous-waste-management-and-retail-sector. Take a look. We’re interested in your thoughts as we move forward in partnership with all stakeholders to implement this strategy.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Superfund Investigates Land Pollution from the Past…and Present

By Mathy Stanislaus

On September 7, 2016, we took steps to respond to states, tribes and citizens who asked for our help addressing contaminated sites. In response, we are adding 10 hazardous waste sites to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is our list of more than 1,300 of the most contaminated sites in the country that we are addressing under the Superfund program. Superfund is one of the most important federal programs to improve the health, environment and economy of America’s communities.

As I’ve traveled across the country during my tenure as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, I’ve seen firsthand how the mismanagement of contamination and hazardous waste can threaten entire communities. According to census data, approximately 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site – roughly 17% of the U.S. population, including 18% of all children in the U.S. under the age of five. Some groups, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, may be at particular risk. During environmental emergencies, health threats — poisoning, injuries from fires and explosions — are often urgent and immediate. At other sites, health effects of contamination — cancer, birth defects — may be more long term. Under the most difficult circumstances, communities reach out to us to use the Superfund program to protect them from these risks.

We continue to find sites where recent operations have resulted in the mismanagement of contamination that warrant our investigation. In addition to adding 10 sites to the NPL, we are proposing the addition of eight more. Nine of these 18 sites were in operation within the last two decades, including several as recently as the late 2000s. Pollution at these 18 sites came from a variety of sources, including manufacturing, mining, battery recycling and dry cleaning.

One area we are listing on the NPL is the Bonita Peak Mining District in San Juan County, Colorado. Mining began there in the 1870s and continued into the 1990s. The Bonita Peak Superfund site includes 48 sources, comprised of 35 mines (including Gold King Mine) and 13 other mining-related areas. We have drainage data on 32 of these sources and we estimate that they collectively contribute an average of 5.4 million gallons of mine-influenced water per day to the Upper Animas River watershed. This water includes metals such as cadmium, copper, manganese and zinc that threaten the health of the watershed and downstream communities.

More broadly, the addition of the sites to the NPL continues a 35-year history of EPA improving the lives of those who reside on or near Superfund sites. Academic research has shown the cleanup of Superfund sites reduces birth defects of those close to a site by as much as 25 percent. Cleanups involving lead-contaminated soil have contributed to documented reductions in children’s blood-lead levels.

In addition, Superfund cleanups have a positive impact on local economies by enabling the reuse of previously unusable land. More than 850 Superfund sites nationwide have some type of actual or planned reuse underway. Last year, we reviewed 454 Superfund sites supporting use or reuse activities and found they had approximately 3,900 businesses with 108,000 employees and annual sales of more than $29 billion.

As our recent listing demonstrates, land pollution continues to occur from a variety of sources. It is not only an issue at abandoned industrial sites riddled with buried hazardous material, or at waste sites that operated before our nation’s environmental laws were enacted. Land pollution is still an issue — often due to the mismanagement of contaminants from more recent operations. Unfortunately, the Superfund program is needed as much today as in the past to clean up communities from such mismanagement.

Our Superfund program will continue to respond to requests from states, tribes and citizens to investigate all eras of pollution — past and present — to protect communities and hold polluters accountable. I am proud of the work our Superfund program has completed to date, and I encourage you to read more about its 35-year history and its highlights.

More information about the September 2016 NPL listing can be found here. http://go.usa.gov/xZ9nP.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health

By: Alison Davis

With more than 20 wildfires currently burning in the western U.S., this is a good time to learn more about wildfire smoke and health – and what you can do to protect yourself.

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women and children are at greater risk from wildfire smoke – but even healthy people can be affected. Join our live Twitter chat at 1:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 22, to learn more about steps you can take to reduce your smoke exposure. Follow @EPAair and the #WildfireSmoke hashtag to join the conversation.

EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio and health effects scientist Susan Stone will be joined by experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control to discuss:

  • What we know about wildfire smoke and health
  • How to find out if wildfire smoke is affecting air quality where you live
  • What steps you can take, before and during a fire, to protect your health

Post questions now in the comment section below, or tweet them when you join us for the chat on Aug. 22. We’ll answer as many question as we can during the chat.

About the author: Alison Davis is a Senior Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The White Table is a Reminder

By Amy Miller

I was already feeling a bit sentimental when I walked into work one day this week. I have a big birthday coming up, and a daughter home from freshman year in college. Flowers are revealing their spring colors and neighbors and friends are emerging from our New England winter’s WhiteTablehibernation. And so perhaps this all helps explain why I was so struck by the anguished solitude of the White Table set out in the lobby of my Boston workplace, more this year than in the past.

Every May the federal government puts out the White Table, a tribute to the men and women who have died or gone missing in service to our country. Called the Missing Man Table, or the Fallen Comrade Table, each feature of the setting – from the white table cloth to the red rose to the lone chair – carries symbolism.

The White Table, perhaps not so well known to the general public, had its origins with a group of fighter pilots who flew in Vietnam and it grew out of concern for the Vietnam POW/MIA issue. The table is only set for one person. A poster sign next to the table in the lobby of Five Post Office Square told the meaning of the different aspects of the table.

The white table cloth stands for the pure intentions of soldiers serving. The single rose in the vase represents bloodshed, and also the loved ones left behind. A slice of lemon is there to remind us of the bitter fate of soldiers and salt on the table tells us of tears shed by families.

The poster informed me that the glass was turned upside down to show that the soldier would not be returning to use the setting, and the candle sits as a ray of light in hopes that POWs or those MIA would find their way home.

Each day of our job at the EPA we work to protect the environment, and the health of the Earth’s living. It is a good day when we stop to remember the precious task at hand, the fragility of our planet and the life upon it.

So when I walked into the building where I work in Boston and saw the White Table, this stark reminder of people who gave up so much, it was in some ways a good day. For it was a chance to feel glad for life, and for the chance to make life in New England a little bit cleaner and a little bit healthier.

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Amy Miller works in the public affairs office of EPA New England and edits the EPA New England blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Going Home to Manage the Final Steps of Omaha’s Historic Lead Cleanup

By Steve Kemp

About two years ago, when my boss first asked me to take the lead Remedial Project Manager’s role at the Omaha Lead Superfund Site, I had to laugh. I was born and raised in Omaha, where I graduated from Benson High School, left for four years while I was in the Army, returned to get my degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and then moved away to start my career.

Although I still go back frequently to visit family and friends, I haven’t lived in Omaha since the late 1980s. However, it seems that every few years I am drawn back to my hometown for one project or another.

I worked at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for many years, and one of the projects I was involved with was the Omaha Riverfront Redevelopment. At the time, the project was the largest in Nebraska’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. The project included the area for the Gallup Riverfront Campus along Abbott Drive, and extended south to the National Park Service building, and the Bob Kerry Footbridge.

The project was a cooperative effort among state, local, and federal government entities, and businesses. Thanks to my staff, the project was a big success. Now I was being asked to assume responsibility for the Omaha Lead Superfund Site, the largest residential lead cleanup site in the history of the Superfund program. I thought it seemed appropriate.

Over a Century of Lead Contamination

The soil in much of eastern Omaha was contaminated with lead from several sources, including a former paint manufacturer, and lead battery recycling, and smelting operations. The most significant source was the former ASARCO lead smelter, located on the west bank of the Missouri River just north of Douglas Street. Lead smelting began at this location in 1870 when the plant was owned by Omaha Smelting Works. The plant changed ownership over time and was owned by ASARCO starting around 1899. By 1915, the ASARCO smelter was the largest lead smelter in the country. ASARCO owned the plant for about 100 years. The ASARCO plant closed in 1997 in a separate cleanup action coordinated by NDEQ.

Workers clean up lead from residential yard in Omaha

Workers clean up lead from residential yard in Omaha

For a century, the ASARCO plant discharged fine particles of lead from the smokestacks into the air. The lead particles were transported by wind and deposited over a large area. In addition to the lead particles from the smelter, another significant source of lead in Omaha’s soil is lead-based paint that chips off of buildings and falls onto the soil near structures, such as houses and garages.

Serious Health Issue

This lead was found in the soil, and people – especially children – were exposed to the contaminated soil. Beginning in the 1970s, children in Omaha were tested and many living within the boundary of the site had very high levels of lead in their blood. This was a serious issue, because lead poisoning can cause a wide variety of health problems, including difficulty with learning and behavioral development. In 1998, the Omaha City Council requested that EPA help address the lead problem in eastern Omaha.

In 1999, EPA began collecting soil samples from properties, including child care facilities, schools, playgrounds, parks, and of course, private homes. EPA later began testing the paint on homes to determine whether the paint contained any lead. EPA also began collecting dust samples from homes to determine whether lead-contaminated dust had entered from outside.

Successes and Challenges

Example of yard before cleanup

Example of yard before cleanup

After 16 years, EPA’s work is now winding down. Over that time, EPA tested soil samples from 40,000 properties and cleaned up more than 13,000 properties that were contaminated with lead. During the busiest years, EPA cleaned up about 2,000 properties each year. Over the last few years, EPA has cleaned up a few hundred properties each year. The slower pace is largely due to increased difficulty obtaining permission from the remaining property owners to clean up their properties.

In 2010, EPA committed to completing the field work for the project by the end of 2015. When I was assigned to the project in February 2014, there were still about 1,800 properties left to be remediated. EPA had obtained permission to clean up a little more than half of these. One of the challenges was to find a way to clean up all the remaining properties and keep the commitment to complete EPA’s field work by Dec. 31, 2015.

City Takes on Final Phases

Example of yard after cleanup

Example of yard after cleanup

In late summer of 2014, EPA began discussions with personnel from the City of Omaha Planning Department to determine whether the city would be willing to take the lead on the remaining contaminated properties. EPA explained that we had done all we could reasonably do to obtain voluntary access from property owners. If EPA was going to obtain additional access, it would likely be necessary to pursue legal action to compel the remaining property owners to allow their properties to be cleaned up. After extensive discussions, the city decided to take on the final phases of work, agreeing that it would attempt to obtain permission to collect soil samples and clean up the remaining properties.

In May 2015, EPA awarded $31 million to the City of Omaha through a cooperative agreement to address these final phases of work. It is hoped that the owners of remaining properties will feel more comfortable, and therefore, more willing to grant access to the city. Only time will tell.

As EPA completes its portion of the residential cleanup activities, I am glad to have been part of this project. Although I only worked on the project for two of the 16 years, I’m grateful that I was able to make a contribution in my hometown. I am also hopeful that as the city continues with its part of the project, this will prove to be a new type of cooperative approach between EPA and local governments.

Learn more about the Omaha Lead Superfund Site.

About the Author: Steve Kemp has served for the past two years as project coordinator for the Omaha Lead Superfund Site. He’s a native of Omaha, and a professional geologist and remedial project manager for EPA Region 7.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Cleaning Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.

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Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website (https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice) lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England Region)

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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