Saturday, May 10, 2003

Cleanup spoils summer

Subdivision faces disruption

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Small lead pellets can be found all through yards, along curbs and gutters in the Lexington Manor subdivision.
(Michael Snyder photo)
LIBERTY TWP. - There won't be backyard barbecues or block parties at Lexington Manor this summer.

Swing sets and trampolines sat untouched, and pellets of lead shot collected in cracks along the curb Friday in this Butler County subdivision where homes range from $190,000 to $330,000.

This Superfund site is where neighbors will endure a disruptive cleanup of lead and arsenic over the next several months.

Hazardous contamination in the subdivision that held a skeet-shooting range in the 1960s has sparked a fast-paced cleanup from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The land was developed in 2000.

The process will take months, not years, EPA officials say, but many residents are dreading it.

Drew and Tara Dilley, who have hazardous lead and arsenic levels in their back yard, fled their $234,400 home Friday to a West Chester Township hotel room half the size of their family room. They are footing the $80 per-night hotel bill, but plan to ask the subdivision's builder, Ryland Homes, to reimburse them.

"This has just been amazing and scary," said Drew Dilley, 33, as he packed clothes for his 2-year-old daughter. "If I don't get my child out of this situation and she has high lead levels, then who's to blame? Me."

Added his wife, Tara: "I don't see why every person in this neighborhood isn't packing up and getting out. Anyone who stays here is taking that risk with their children."

Lexington Manor qualifies as a U.S. EPA Superfund site because people, animals and the environment are being exposed to contaminants, creating an urgent need to quickly clean the subdivision.

The U.S. EPA is conducting at least two other "time critical" removal actions in southeast Indiana and Southwest Ohio:

Valley Crest Landfill in Dayton: Drums containing mainly old solvents are buried in an old gravel pit.

Residential areas in Laurel, Ind.: Surface drums containing old solvents and paint are being removed.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

So far, at least 13 of the 46 yards at Lexington Manor off Millikin Road will be torn up as the lead-contaminated soil is excavated and trucked to a hazardous dump. And as soil testing continues, more yards might need excavating. Sidewalks, driveways and streets also could be ripped up.

At a Thursday meeting between EPA officials and Lexington Manor residents, photos were shown of a similar hazardous-waste cleanup. Piles of dirt and bulldozers were everywhere.

Workers will use protective clothing and equipment.

The contaminated yards will be sprayed with a yet-to-be-determined substance to prevent lead-tainted dust from blowing around. Air quality meters will be installed.

Once the cleanup is complete, homes will be tested with an EPA vacuum to make sure the lead has not been tracked in.

But for some, that's not good enough. "I don't care how much they clean up. I want out," said Ed Lumbert, 34, who lives on Palomino Lane, two doors down from the Dilleys. "Who wants to live on Mount Rumpke?"

10 steps to cleanup

It will be a 10-step cleanup, said Steven Renninger, the on-scene coordinator in the Superfund division of the U.S. EPA's Cincinnati office.

But before the process begins, the EPA is negotiating a federal consent decree with the parties the EPA has deemed responsible for the lead contamination. Then, those parties must submit a schedule and work plan. The EPA also will approve which contractors the parties hire.

The responsible parties, Renninger said this week, are Ryland Homes - the subdivision builder - and Lexington Manor Inc., the developer. Harry Thomas, Jr., a Butler County developer of HT Investments Inc., of Fairfield, is listed as the agent for Lexington Manor Inc., according to state records.

Ryland spokeswoman Anne Madison has said the company is committed to resolving the problem and will sign the decree.

Thomas has referred comment to lawyers who could not be reached Friday.

Cleanup costs have not been estimated.

Arsenic scare

Residents were shocked to learn Thursday that an extraordinarily high level of arsenic, which is toxic, was detected in the Dilleys' yard.

Mouths dropped, eyes gaped and someone's attorney wryly muttered, "Great."

EPA officials quickly explained the arsenic was found in lead shot pellets in the yard. As the land is cleaned of the lead, the arsenic also will be removed, they said.

Butler County Department of Health permits 8.5 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic to be found in soil; the arsenic level the EPA uncovered was 2,000 ppm, Renninger said.

The Lumberts, who already had their children tested for lead, took them back to doctors Friday for arsenic tests.

Most families refuse to let their children and pets into the yards. Many want Ryland to buy back their homes. "Ryland took chances with all our children's lives," Tara Dilley said. "I couldn't possibly ever stay here again."


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