Lead cleanup may continue

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

During 2006-07, 21,000 tons of soil contaminated with lead was removed from 129 locations in Iola and replaced with clean soil. Most of the contamination occurred when smelters in the area reduced ore to zinc a century ago. The effort to clean Iola soil may continue.
Rick Bean, chief of KDHE’s Remedial Section, asked city commissioners Tuesday if they wanted to continue with the clean-up, mainly with federal Superfund money.
The Environmental Protection Agency Superfund project resulted from studies by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment two years earlier. Altogether 1,900 of 2,600 eligible properties were tested. Those treated had some spots with lead levels of 800 parts per million or more. About $2 million was spent on the project.
Bean said there was no downside for residential property owners. They are out no money and get a “clean” yard if soil tests indicate need. Also, if a yard has been found to have lead levels of concern and is not cleaned up, that must be noted by real estate agents when a house is sold. Some lenders are also reluctant to approve loans if remediation is indicated and not carried out.
Bean reminded commissioners Iola agreed to continue participation in the project in 2008.
The fly in the ointment, for the time being, is that if EPA returns to Iola, KDHE would have to match 10 percent of cost, “and we don’t have the money right now,” Bean said, noting revenue shortfalls in Topeka that have prompted Gov. Mark Parkinson to cut many things to the quick.
The issue is being reconsidered because two companies with heirship to smelter properties backed out of negotiations that would have imposed some responsibility for cleanup upon them. Bean said he could not divulge the identity of the company, neither with any association to Iola today, because of ongoing legal negotiations.
“They disagreed with the percentage of responsibility” that KDHE wanted to assign to them, Bean said. City accord would lead to KDHE putting pressure on the companies to pay for remediation, he said. The alternative may be for the U.S. Department of Justice to start proceedings.
Commissioners didn’t commit, although Mayor Bill Maness said it “makes sense to continue with the cleanup since we’re already in it.”
During the last cleanup effort, home lawns and areas near schools and other places where children congregate were targeted. Soil replacement occurred only when 800 ppm lead were found. Other properties — Bean didn’t have a number — fell into the second remediation category, between 400 and 800 ppm. Those would be remediated in the continued cleanup.
“I don’t know if anything really was accomplished,” Commissioner Bill Shirley said. “There are people who have lived near McKinley School (where levels were above 800) for 30 or 40 years with no ill effects.”
Bean said lead poisoning is a problem that primarily affects children and can have ill effects on their mental development. He agreed blood tests taken among children — primarily in the McKinley area — revealed no problems of any significance.
Commissioners said they would decide at their Jan. 26 meeting whether to remain in the effort.