Thursday, April 17, 2003

More high lead levels found

Subdivision residents to speak out

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Jodie Warner holds her son Blake, 2 1/2, in her cordoned-off back yard in the Lexington Manor subdivision.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
LIBERTY TWP. - An orange construction fence keeps 2-year-old Blake Warner from romping in his backyard.

The fence is there to keep Blake away from soil with a lead content 45 times higher than federal standards for open soil in play areas

Blake lives in Lexington Manor, the upscale subdivision still under construction that used to be a skeet shooting range. The subdivision faces a state and federal environmental investigation for possible lead contamination.

"Here it is warm weather and we can't play out in the backyard," said Blake's mother, Jodie Warner, 35.

The lead level - 18,200 parts per million - is the highest found so far at Lexington Manor and is considered hazardous, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials confirmed this week after receiving a letter from the family's attorney.

The maximum acceptable level according to federal and state standards in bare soil areas is 400 parts per million (ppm). The previous highest test result at Lexington Manor was 10,000 ppm on a different yard on another street. Tests have found at least 14 lots with surface lead concentrations above 400 ppm.

"This is an extremely high level of lead. It is very concerning," said Harold O'Connell, manager of OEPA's hazardous waste division in Dayton. "The biggest concern is ingestion, of course. You don't want any kids out there making mud pies in 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.

So far at Lexington Manor, several neighbors have had their children tested but there are no indications anyone has suffered health problems from exposure to the soil.

Overall, 904 soil samples conducted by Ryland from 38 yards out of 46 total lots at Lexington Manor have been analyzed. Fifty-three samples from 14 lots have one or more readings greater than 400 parts per million (ppm), the standard for bare soil play areas.

Soil covered with sod or other vegetation can have lead levels as high as 1,200 ppm and be safe, according to federal standards.

Sources: U.S. EPA and Enquirer research

No children so far have been reported with any health problems linked to the lead-tainted soil. However, OEPA this week requested U.S. EPA assistance "in conducting a potential time-critical removal action" at Lexington Manor.

"High levels of lead, a hazardous substance, are present in surface soils in yards ... and have the potential to mitigate as run-off during storm events or to become airborne as contaminated dust," states the letter from Christopher Jones, OEPA's director. "Warm weather will lead to increased outdoor activity by residents, especially children, who have the potential to ingest these contaminated soils..."

The hazardous lead level has prompted a 1 p.m. press conference today in the Warners' yard with their attorney, Chris Finney of Hyde Park, and other families who are suing the subdivision's builder, Ryland Homes, and the developer.

The families will report more test results from their yards and appeal again to Ryland for thorough soil testing and cleanup.

They also will include a new request: they want Ryland to stop selling homes until the matter is resolved.

Ryland did not comment Wednesday.

The controversy at Lexington Manor began late last year, when high lead levels were discovered in a yard on Palomino Lane.

The national home building company has paid for two rounds of testing and is about to begin a third that also will determine cleanup boundaries.

But the families are upset that Ryland did not disclose the lead.

Ryland officials maintain they were not obligated to inform residents when they purchased their homes because Ryland had received assurance the land was safe for homes.


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