lead-based-paint

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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Twitter Town Hall on Lead Awareness

By Matthew Garamella

Yesterday morning was a typical morning — I woke up and rolled myself out of bed to get ready for the day. However, this time I noticed a small patch of paint chipping from the ceiling of my room. Normally I would think nothing of this minor inconvenience, but that chipping paint reminded me of the lead hazards I learned from my summer internship at EPA. I knew my room was painted well after 1978 (when lead in paint was banned nationwide), but that didn’t stop me from thinking: what if this is lead paint, and what are the long term impacts if I just ignore it?

Millions of people around the world are threatened by lead exposure, but many do not know how serious it is or how to recognize and take steps to prevent lead hazards especially for kids. Lead exposure is toxic to all people but has a defining effect on children under the age of 6. It can cause learning disabilities and lower IQ. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there is no safe blood lead level for children.

If you own a home built before 1978, there is a likelihood that it contains lead-based paint. The safest way to determine if lead is present in your home is to hire someone who is trained and certified by EPA or has an equivalent state certification. I have taken the necessary precautions to protect my home but I worry that there are many people who have not been properly educated on the health concerns that lead poisoning causes.

If you are interested in learning about preventing lead hazards and what you can do to help raise awareness, join us at 2 pm EST, October 28 for a twitter chat. EPA’s experts will be joined by CDC and HUD to answer your questions. Join the conversation: follow the #LeadChat2015 hashtag @EPAlive, @CDCEnvironment, and @HUDgov during the chat. We look forward to talking with you.

Learn more about Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

About the author: Matthew Garamella was a summer 2015 intern at the EPA in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, Program Assessment and Outreach Branch. Matthew is currently in his junior year at Boston University studying Environmental Analysis & Policy and International Relations.

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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Environmental Issues Know No Boundaries

By Salimatou Pratt

If you’re like me, talking about environmental issues is normal, especially around the dinner table with family and friends. Coming from Conakry, Guinea, and learning about how I may have been exposed to toxicity from local industries while growing up, has intensified my desire to be part of the bigger environmental discussion. Interning in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has given me a unique perspective on how the agency connects with communities, both nationally and internationally.

When I visited my family in Guinea two years ago, I paid attention to things I hadn’t thought about before, such as lead-based paintpesticides, and contaminants in drinking water.  In my community, these are things that directly affect the homes we live in, the food we eat, and the water we drink. I have seen firsthand how the lack of oversight of these basic needs has taken a devastating toll on people, families and communities. While pursuing my liberal arts degree at The Evergreen State College, I’ve concentrated on environmental studies to learn more about health hazards, both here in the US and in my home country.

I constantly ask myself what I can do to help the most vulnerable people, like children, pregnant moms and seniors. The first step towards addressing these issues is to raise awareness, so I’ve been helping to support the current conversation about EPA’s proposed standards on carbon pollution for existing power plants in the US. It’s exciting to know that everyone in this country has the opportunity to comment on rules like this and that their voices are an important part of the rule making process.

I’m committed to applying my knowledge of public health and lessons learned during my coursework and internship to help educate those around me, especially the most vulnerable in my local community in Guinea.

About the author: Salimatou Pratt is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is graduating from The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington. She is planning to further the conversation about the environment in her home town of Conakry, Guinea.

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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Lead Poisoning: A Cumulative and Persistent Problem In our Homes (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

Lead poisons huge numbers of people of all ages and walks of life, and the effects of lead most often present themselves as chronic and debilitating. The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable. So, despite the dramatic reduction in sources of lead exposure, lead poisoning remains a reality for a disturbingly high number of people in this country. Though lead is no longer added to gasoline, paint or plumbing fixtures, very little has been done in most states to eliminate the hazards posed by lead in existing paint and plumbing systems and lead-contaminated soil and dust. In 1995 the federal government estimated that 83 percent of the privately owned homes built before 1980 contain some lead-based paint, with 23 percent of these homes with soil lead levels in excess of 400 ppm.

Most exposure occurs at Home. When lead paint peels or is disturbed — even during minor renovations — lead-containing dust is produced. Lead dust is one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to lead. Lead dust may not be visible to the naked eye however, most lead dust forms as a result of flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded or disturbed during home remodeling If swallowed, even the tiniest lead particles are dangerous. Exterior paint is even higher in lead content and thus more dangerous when it becomes accessible to the interior at windowsills.

People are poisoned by inhaling and ingesting these tiny particles that flake off by opening and closing of windows and doors. These lead particles settle on windowsills, wood floors, and in carpeting and other low-lying areas. Similarly, flakes and particles from exterior paint accumulate in the soil outside a house. The finer particles can easily blow into homes and offices as dust. The concentration of lead in soil adjacent to homes with lead-based paint can be as high as 10,000 ppm.

How can I tell if my house has lead in or around It? The older the house, the greater the risk. If your house has lead paint, it is best to find a qualified lead abatement professional to get rid of it. Removing lead paint yourself can be very dangerous, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

I have lead in my home and nowhere else to go. What do I do? Natural indoor air currents keep microscopic dust particles in the air. You can keep the dust out of the air with an ionizer or negative ion generator. This is a temporary fix. When an ionizer is running, the negative ions cause the dust particles floating in the air to be attracted to one another and stick together. When a bunch of them stick together and form a bigger clump of dust particles they become heavy enough to sink down to the floor and they can be vacuumed up. The main goal of an ionizer is to get the dust out of the air so that it cannot be breathed in.

Concerned about lead in your environment? Go to www.epa.gov/lead , or call 311 in New York City or call the National lead hotline: 1-800-424-LEAD (5323).

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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 for a Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

As we see the first signs of the new season, it’s easy to get into the mood for spring cleaning around the house. We just want to open the windows, freshen the air, put away the heavy coats and signs of winter inside the home. During this process, we start thinking of giving a thorough cleaning around the house and even a fresh coat of paint or doing some renovations. How can we make sure that during this process, we are making our home environment healthier? Well, here are some green tips for your consideration.

Thinking of giving your kitchen or bathrooms a good scrubbing? Do you want to make sure that the chemicals that you are using are safe and green? Here’s a suggestion. Use cleaning products with the Design for the Environment label. (DfE). What is the DfE exactly? It’s an EPA partnership program. Those products with the DfE label have been screened carefully for potential human health and environmental effects to ensure that they are produced with the safest ingredients possible.

Another common spring cleaning practice? Painting! It’s an easy way to give a whole new look to home. However, if your home was built before 1978, it is very likely that it has lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal found in paints and buildings built before 1978 and it can cause serious damage to the brain, learning problems and even hearing problems. So if you are thinking about painting around the house or making some renovations, get some useful information on making these renovations safely or getting a certified contractor.

Thinking of some major repairs such as getting water efficient toilets or new household appliances? Look at products with the WaterSense label for greater water efficiency or Energy Star appliances to save energy, money, and protect the environment.

Over the winter, did you have problems with snow and a leaky basement? Make sure to correct the any mold problems and get proper ventilation to ensure good indoor air quality in your home.

So, do you have any grand spring cleaning plans in mind? Share your thoughts. We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Lead Exposure No Laughing Matter

By Kasia Broussalian

For good reasons, “lead” has been quite a buzzword throughout the past decade. Its adverse health effects include detrimental interferences with the nervous system, the heart, kidneys, bones and intestines. Lead poisoning is particularly harmful to children, who can suffer from developmental disorders, learning and behavioral disorders. Exposure concerns in the past few years run from light-hearted jokes to mildly concerning to alarming.

I laughed at my mother, who reminded me not to eat the paint after moving into my apartment. After the city warned of elevated lead levels found in tap water in some of the older homes of residents last year, I immediately blamed every headache I had ever had on lead intoxication. In 2000, the 18,000 New Jersey children under the age of six that were thought to carry extremely high levels of lead in their blood was, and still continues to this day, frightening.

Luckily, in April of last year, EPA introduced revisions and a strengthening of stringent rules to the RRP Law, or Renovation, Repair, and Paint Law. The law requires contractors performing renovation, repair, and painting that disturb more than six square feet of paint in homes built before 1978 must be trained and certified on correct procedures to prevent lead contamination.

Just last week, I was in Long Island City for a press event with the Fortune Society and took part in a demonstration by ANDO International on the updated procedures for correct operations when dealing with lead based paint (LBP). Though I must comment that those bright purple protection suits are quite endearing on any one, the quick testing and analysis for lead, as well as the precautions shown for contractors was very efficient. To learn more about lead and its effects, check out this link.

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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