Saturday, January 11, 2003

Subdivision tested for lead; residents not told of its past

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - Residents of an upscale subdivision still under development in this rapidly growing Butler County community are upset and worried after potentially dangerous levels of lead turned up in the soil of one home's yard.

[photo] Ed and Robin Lumbert look out the front window of their Lexington Manor home Friday in Liberty Township.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Now, the subdivision's builders are having all the yards tested for lead and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Lexington Manor - off Millikin Road between Ohio 747 and Liberty-Fairfield Road - has a lead contamination problem.

The 25-acre site, where homes range from $190,000 to $330,000, held a clay pigeon skeet shooting range until 1969. State environmental officials say lead shot that fell into the soil is the cause of the problem.

Shooting ranges now typically have the shot picked up and recycled.

"Clearly, it is something that is a concern and we are definitely anxious to look into what additional information we can get," said Harold O'Connell, supervisor of the Dayton office of the Ohio EPA division of hazardous waste management.

"We are concerned whether the lead is going to impact the ground water or disperse and be airborne, causing inhalation and exposures in that route," he said. "One thing we also have a concern about as far as exposure goes is a child playing in a playground or their yards there."

Lead levels potentially dangerous
Last month, two residents contacted the EPA's Dayton office after the tests turned up high levels of lead in a Palomino Lane yard.

One of them, Jim Tarver, and his wife, Lisa, had their three children tested for lead Friday. The backyard of their $228,000 home is where the shooting pads once were located. Last summer the family grew tomatoes and peppers there.

"It is just heart-wrenching," Mr. Tarver, 28, said Wednesday. "You get to the point where you want to cry. You wish you had known before you signed on the dotted line."

A potential buyer of the Tarvers' home had lead testing done in November after an older resident who lives just outside the subdivision on Millikin Road tipped them that the land used to hold a skeet shooting range called the Hamilton Sportsman's Association.

The tests turned up some samples in which the soil had higher levels of lead than acceptable state and government standards, according to a Dec. 14 letter that Ryland Homes, who built the subdivision, sent to all Lexington Manor residents.

If not detected early, young children with relatively low levels of lead can suffer from:
• Damage to the brain and nervous system
• Behavior and learning problems
• Slowed growth
• Hearing problems
• Headaches
• Impaired vision and motor skills
Adults can suffer from:
• Difficulties during pregnancy
• Reproductive problems (such as birth defects)
• High blood pressure
• Digestive problems
• Neurological disorders
• Memory and concentration problems
• Muscle and joint pain
• Kidney dysfunction
Eleven soil samples from the backyard of the home found lead at concentrations between 300 and 1,500 parts per million (ppm), with an average concentration of about 800 ppm, according to an attachment to the letter.

While the average is below the 1,200 ppm standard applicable in areas other than bare play areas, it is above the most stringent standard of 400 ppm, the letter reads. Out of 19 samples collected later, eight were below 400 ppm and 11 were above. The results range from 32 ppm to 10,000 ppm with an average of 556 ppm.

After the most recent results came back, the potential homebuyer backed out of the deal.

Ryland purchased the property after the developers, H.T. Investments Inc. of Fairfield, attempted to remove the lead shot and treat the soils. H.T. Investments also hired a Blue Ash based environmental consulting firm to test locations in the shot drop zone.

That company, The Payne Firm Inc., confirmed in a Sept. 8, 2000, letter to H.T. Investments and Ryland that lead concentrations in the surface soils were below the most stringent government standards, according to the Ryland letter.

Ryland Homes began building in Lexington Manor about three years ago. A majority of the 46 lots have been developed; 19 remain under construction or unsold.

But in an attachment Ryland Homes sent to neighbors, John Adams, president of the Ohio Valley Division, wrote:

"Prior to our development, previous owners of the property attempted to remove the lead shot and treat the soils in this area. We have recently discovered that these remedial efforts may not have been as successful as represented to us."

Harry Thomas, owner of H.T. Investments, referred calls this week for comment to Ryland Homes.

A Ryland spokeswoman said the matter has surprised Ryland, one of the nation's largest homebuilders with 350 subdivisions in 14 states.

"We are going to make this situation right," Ryland spokeswoman Anne Madison said. "We are stepping up to the plate to handle this even though we are the builder of their homes, not the developer."

Ms. Madison said it now appears the Payne report "is in error some way." Payne officials issued a release Friday, noting that the sampling on the Lexington Manor lot showed average lead concentrations above the 400 ppm target, but well below federal standards.

Ryland is paying for individual soil samplings to be taken from each of the subdivision's lots. Testing began Monday. The first results should be back by the end of next week, Ms. Madison said.

At least 17 homeowners have not given Ryland permission to have the tests done on their soil and say they are contemplating legal action against Ryland, Mr. Tarver said.

Company representatives, residents maintain, never told them when they bought their homes the land used to hold a skeet shooting range - not even when they asked why there are excavated areas in the subdivision. The homeowners now believe those areas of excavation are where the lead was buried.

Ed and Robin Lumbert bought a new home for $275,500 on Palomino Lane in 2002 and planned on rearing their three young children there. Instead, they are seeking to rescind their sale.

"It's a terrible situation to be here," said Mrs. Lumbert, 35. "We just bought this house 10 months ago. All my children have been tested for lead. But if we go to sell this house and purchase a new home, it's going to cost us a lot more, if we can even get out of it what we put into it."

Ryland officials say further decisions will come after it knows how many other lots, if any, come back with high lead levels.

EPA officials said this week they have just begun to investigate. Ryland has not ruled out paying for blood tests for all of Lexington Manor residents.

Ms. Madison acknowledged that Ryland did not inform residents the land used to hold a skeet shooting range and that lead from the shotgun shells was in the soil. It wasn't mentioned, she said, because Ryland had received assurance from Payne that the property was safe.


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