Joplin gets another $2.5 million for lead removal

JOPLIN (AP) — The city of Joplin has received another $2.5 million in federal funds to continue removing lead-contaminated soil that was churned up during the May 2011 tornado and recovery efforts.

The Joplin City Council voted Tuesday night to accept the money from the Environmental Protection Agency to restart efforts to remove lead from residential yards.

The work stopped in November when earlier funding ran out, after the city had cleaned up 208 yards and two city parks. Leslie Heitkamp, head of the city’s soil removal program, said the new funding could mean that 200 to 250 yards on a waiting list will be repaired this year.

The money comes from the EPA’s Superfund program, which provided $500,000 to Joplin in December 2011 to hire a coordinator and pay for equipment, testing services, soil excavation and soil replacement. In October 2012, the city received another $2.4 million for expenses and to speed the city’s recovery, The Joplin Globe reported.

The tornado, along with subsequent cleanup efforts, disturbed the soil at thousands of properties, including many homes that had been built on mine waste areas. Officials said 426 yards out of about 1,100 yards that were sampled for lead required the excavation of lead-contaminated soil.

Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, said the total number of yards in the tornado zone that will need remediation is not yet known.

Before the city can clean up a yard, the property owner must ask that the home’s yard be sampled. Once contamination is found, a contractor working for the city excavates the dirt to a maximum depth of 18 inches and new dirt is brought in.

The city cannot issue a building permit on any property where children could be present, such as a home or child care center, until the testing is done. To be eligible for yard cleanup, the damage must be at least 50 percent of the value of the property, or have severe soil disturbance. Or the property owner must be planning to build an addition that will require soil excavation.

The EPA has been removing mine and smelter wastes in the Joplin area since the mid-1990s. Before the May 2011 tornado, the EPA had cleaned more than 2,600 residential yards of material contaminated by lead and cadmium. That work was prompted by a health study that showed 14 percent of the children in northwest Joplin had elevated levels of lead in their blood. After the yards were repaired, a health study found that the lead-poisoning rate among Joplin’s children had fallen to 2 percent.

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