Friday, April 18, 2003

U.S. EPA tackles Liberty Twp. lead

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - Federal authorities are getting involved in a lead-contaminated Butler County subdivision.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday that they will help remove tainted soil at Lexington Manor, a new subdivision where neighbors are worried about whether their yards are safe for their children.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency this week asked the federal EPA to help their investigation of health risks and contamination at Lexington Manor off Millikin Road in Liberty Township because the federal arm of the agency has more staff and expertise to quickly resolve the problem.

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

Exposure to lead can cause behavioral disorders, brain damage or death. No health problems linked to the subdivision's soil have been reported. At least 33 children live there; some are now banned by parents on the advice from environmental consultants from playing in their yards.

"We know there are kids out there playing now that the weather is nice, and we want to see if we can move this thing off the dime," said Harold O'Connell, manager of OPEA's hazardous waste division in Dayton.

The federal EPA has the authority to have the soil removed under the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup program and then pursue reimbursement from the responsible private parties, said Steve Renninger, an on-scene coordinator in the Superfund division of U.S. EPA's Cincinnati office.

"It is our goal to have responsible parties perform the cleanup but, if necessary, we could go that route," Renninger said.

U.S. EPA officials will test soil at the subdivision soon, he added. They also will review all the data on the subdivision, including test results Ryland and the neighbors and their attorneys have had conducted, and attempt to meet with Ryland and others involved in the lead remediation of the land.

According to a letter that went from OEPA to the U.S. EPA this week, a "time-critical removal action" is necessary at Lexington Manor because "high levels of lead, a hazardous substance, are present in surface soils in yards ... and have the potential to migrate as run-off during storm events or to become airborne as contaminated dust."

On Thursday, more than 40 Lexington Manor residents, their small children and attorney gathered in a yard where a hazardous lead level has been detected to publicly appeal to Ryland Homes to quit building and selling homes until the soil has been thoroughly tested and cleaned.

The 19 families who have sued Ryland, the subdivision's developer and others also want their 25-acre subdivision, built on a former skeet shooting range, to be cleaned to the quality of virgin farmland, which is what they thought they were getting when they bought their homes for $190,000 to $330,000.

"Now we know that we live atop a bury pit containing hazardous waste," said Jodie Warner, 35, as she held her 2-year-old son, Blake. He is not allowed to play in his own back yard, part of which is barricaded.

A Ryland spokeswoman referred calls for comment Thursday to the company's attorneys, who released a statement that did not address Lexington Manor residents' request that construction and home sales cease. The statement repeated previous comments Ryland officials have made that the company is fully committed to working with the governmental agencies and homeowners.

A soil sample from the Warners' yard recently tested 18,200 parts per million, which is considered hazardous because it is 45 times higher than federal standards for open soil in play areas.

The maximum acceptable level according to federal and state standards in bare soil areas is 400 ppm. The previous highest test result at Lexington Manor was 10,000 ppm.

Tests have found at least 14 lots with surface lead concentrations above 400 ppm, according to OEPA.

Ryland officials have said they were not obligated to inform residents of the lead because the company had been assured the land was safe for homes.

Ryland has paid for two rounds of soil testing at Lexington Manor and had planned to begin a third that also would identify cleanup boundaries.

Lead concentrations have been a concern since late last year, when a neighbor who lives outside the subdivision tipped off a potential Lexington Manor homebuyer that the land used to hold a skeet shooting range.

The buyer backed out of the deal after lead tests conducted on the soil came back with high lead concentrations. As word of the results spread throughout the subdivision in December, a Lexington Manor homeowner alerted OEPA.

Before homes were built, the lead-tainted soils were rototilled with clean soil to try to dilute high lead concentrations, records show. When that didn't work, the lead soil was treated with lime to render it nonhazardous and then buried.

The Warners also have found pellets of shotgun shells in the rear of their yard, which they and other neighbors pointed out Thursday.


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