Thursday, March 20, 2003

Owners sue over lead in soil

Families seek land cleanup

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP - In the second lawsuit filed over potentially hazardous lead levels at their new subdivision, 17 families on Wednesday sued the builder, developer and others, seeking damages and demanding that the land be restored to its former farmland state.

If the land at Lexington Manor isn't cleaned to the neighbors' liking, they want the builder, Ryland Homes, to repurchase their homes, which ranged in price from $190,000 to $330,000.

The suit alleges 12 charges including fraud, deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, violation of the Consumer Sales Practices Act and conspiracy.

The suit represents the 17 families, or 34 plaintiffs, and was filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court against the subdivision's builder, The Ryland Group Inc.; its developer, Lexington Manor Inc.; and that corporation's agent, Butler County developer Harry Thomas Jr., owner of HT Investments Inc. of Fairfield.

"It's amazing they can do this to innocent home buyers. Ryland undoubtedly knew the extent of the contamination and the failure of efforts to mitigate at the time they sold lots to these people," said attorney Chris Finney of Hyde Park.

"They had a legal obligation to tell these people that they were buying lead-contaminated lots and they did not do that."

The suit also names The Payne Firm Inc. of Blue Ash, which Thomas hired as an environmental consultant while Lexington Manor was prepared for homes in 2000. Also named in the suit is Ray Hensley Inc., the contractor who rototilled the lead-tainted soil with clean soil in 2000.

When further testing showed rototilling wasn't effective in reducing the lead content, Thomas had the soils with high lead concentrations treated with lime to render them nonhazardous, then buried five months later, in August 2000, records show.

The controversy has been brewing since late last year. The homes sit on 25 acres that used to be a clay-pigeon skeet shooting range, where lead shot fell into the soil, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. After the range shut down in 1969, the parcel was a cattle farm.

Now, some homeowners want more effort to clean up the soil and others want to sell. Agency officials are investigating whether the lead was properly treated and if there are health hazards.

On Tuesday, the agency plans to hold a public meeting with the residents at the Liberty Township Hall, 6400 Princeton Road.

In January, another Lexington Manor family, Robin and Ed Lumbert, sued Ryland, demanding the home builder purchase back their $275,500 home and pay moving and other expenses and damages.

With both lawsuits, the majority of the subdivision's residents have sued.

Ryland officials repeatedly have stressed they were not obligated to inform residents of the lead because they had received assurance from The Payne Firm via a September 2000 letter to Thomas that the land was safe for homes.

Ryland spokeswoman Anne Madison echoed that stance Wednesday but declined comment on the lawsuit because the company hadn't seen it.

Attorneys for Thomas have said everyone involved in the property did the right thing and that the developer followed recommendations of The Payne Firm.

Joseph Reidy, the Columbus-based attorney for Thomas and Lexington Manor Inc., declined to comment Wednesday because he had not seen the suit.

Calls to The Payne Firm and Ray Hensley Inc. of Enon were not returned Wednesday.

So far, there are no indications that anyone at Lexington Manor has suffered health problems from exposure to the soil.

Lead exposure damages the brain, nervous system, kidneys and other tissues. At high levels, it can be deadly. At chronic lower levels, lead can hurt learning ability, damage short-term memory and increase the likelihood of criminal behavior.

Lexington residents are furious Ryland did not disclose the lead situation, and fear for their children's safety.

"I had to put my children through blood tests. That was very traumatic for them," said Nicholle Girves, a 34-year-old mother of two children, ages 8 and 4. She also is pregnant with twins.

"My children ask a lot of questions when they are playing outside - are they allowed to play outside? What will happen if we play outside?" she continued. "When you buy a house, you put a lot of money into it and expect to have a good return on your investment. Now we are not so sure about that."


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