Thursday, May 29, 2003

Lead hazard

'It was our dream house'


It would be hard not be mad as hell if you live in Lexington Manor. And maybe scared and discouraged.

The Butler County subdivision with houses ranging in price from $190,000 to $330,000 is officially contaminated. A Superfund site. This summer, Environmental Protection Agency workers in jumpsuits and masks will be tromping around yards where kids have been playing.

Few of us understand a trillion dollars, even if it's supposedly our money, our national debt. And when Martha Stewart was fleetingly worth a billion dollars, we just couldn't convert that into pinecones and glue guns. It's beyond us, most of us.

A 'dream house'

But we understand the cost of housing. Mortgage. Taxes. Insurance. Many of us have had the experience of figuring out exactly how much we can afford to spend for the roof over our heads, then exceeding it. Especially after "our heads" includes our children. Then you start looking at schools. Maybe you fall in love with the view from the family room deck. You imagine yourself in front of the fireplace.

"This was our dream home," Robin Lumbert says. She and her husband, Ed, bought the house in Liberty Township after looking through a Ryland Homes model. They chose the second cul-de-sac. The first was too close to a pond. Robin worried one of her kids - ages 2, 4 and 61/2 - would wander into the water.

In February 2002, they moved in. They put a swing set in the yard, which they fenced. The Lumberts are what you might call cautious. Robin noticed a sign on the edge of their lot that said "Bury Area." She was told the spot was designated for underground wiring. Instead, she believes, it was where lead-tainted soil was mixed with clean soil, treated with lime and buried. The 25-acre subdivision is built on a former skeet shooting range.

"We never would have moved here if we'd known," the young mother said.

Ed Lumbert first heard about it from somebody who had lived in the area for years and wondered "why anybody with kids would live here," Robin says. The Lumberts couldn't get anybody to listen.

"I was praying," Robin says. "Please, God, show me how this is going to go. Just then, our doorbell rang."

Enquirer reporter Jennifer Edwards was on the front stoop. Knocking on doors in the development off Millikin Road between Ohio 747 and Liberty-Fairfield Road, Jennifer was freezing cold but she saw a sled in the yard - kids. And she rang the bell at the Lumberts'.

"After that," Robin says, "things happened pretty fast." Besides hazardous lead levels, the EPA found arsenic.

Last week, the builder offered to buy back the houses, "although we were assured by the developer it was clean, safe for homes," said Anne Madison of Ryland, adding that her company was not obliged to inform homebuyers of the site's history. She declined to say whether the company was considering recourse against developer H.T. Investments Inc. of Fairfield. "We are keeping our focus on making things right for the homeowners. Some companies wouldn't do this. I'm proud of us."

The first Enquirer story was in January. There were about two dozen after that. And I'm proud of us, too.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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