Savage Joplin tornado exposed lead contamination

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 27, 2011 5:08 PM
Savage Joplin tornado exposed lead contamination

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - The city of Joplin is asking the federal government to help clean up lead contamination on about 1,500 properties damaged in the savage May 22 tornado.

The twister tore apart structures that contained lead and disrupted soil on property built atop of old lead mines, Joplin city officials said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cleanup will cost an estimated $5,000 per property or roughly $7.5 million, said Mayor Mike Woolston and City Manager Mark Rohr in a letter early this month to EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks in Kansas City.

EPA spokesman David Bryan said Thursday that the agency is preparing a response and will work with the city to identify lead-contaminated sites and develop a cleanup plan.

"The agreement will include some type of funding mechanism," Bryan said.

The EF-5 tornado destroyed some 9,000 homes and other buildings in Joplin and took 162 lives. Some of the destroyed structures had basements, crawl spaces or slabs made of materials that included lead chat, used before its health risks were known, city officials said.

Much of Joplin is built on old mine sites. The EPA waged a cleanup effort in the early 1990s because of soils contaminated by lead and cadmium. Lead testing has for years been required prior to building projects, but the cost in the wake of the tornado exceeds the means of most residents, the city officials said.

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"High lead levels in the disrupted soil potentially represent a significant liability issue for Joplin and a safety hazard for our community as well as a possible impediment to our rebuilding efforts...." Woolston and Rohr wrote.

The Jasper County Health Department recently tested a sampling of 43 properties for lead and cadmium in the affected area and found that 19 of them were in need of some level of remediation, documents show.

(Editing by Greg McCune)