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EPA Region 7 Completes 10,000th Residential Yard Cleanup of Lead-Contaminated Soils at Omaha Lead Site in Omaha, Neb.

Release Date: 12/15/2011
Contact Information: Chris Whitley, (office) 913-551-7394, (Blackberry) 816-518-2794, whitley.christopher@epa.gov

Environmental News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Kansas City, Kan., Dec. 15, 2011) - Representatives of EPA Region 7, the State of Nebraska, the City of Omaha, Douglas County, Neb., and local residents gathered today in Omaha to celebrate EPA’s completion of its 10,000th cleanup of toxic lead from residential yard soils in the city, a milestone in the Agency’s continuing work at the Omaha Lead Superfund Site.

Under the authority of the Superfund program, EPA has been working in Omaha since 1999 to identify and remove lead from residential properties, as well as public parks, playgrounds, and child care facilities. To date, the Agency has sampled more than 39,000 properties in Omaha, and – as of October 23, 2011 – completed the cleanup of its 10,000th residential yard.

Approximately 4,100 properties with elevated levels of lead in soils remain to be cleaned up to complete EPA’s work at the nation’s largest residential lead remediation site. Aided by favorable weather, long outdoor construction seasons and a continued record-setting work pace for soil remediation, EPA and its contractors anticipate that the job could be completed by 2015.

“EPA's successful work in Omaha has kept families healthier, secured property values in the city's heart, and provided valuable job training," EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “This agency has worked productively with a range of local partners for over a decade to get the lead out of Omaha, and we're staying on task until we've finished our job.”

Brooks today joined Nebraska State Sen. Brenda J. Council, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour, other state and local officials, and several property owners at a news conference at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center to mark the 10,000-yard milestone.

The EPA Regional Administrator noted that the lead cleanup’s main objective, to protect current and future generations of Omaha’s children from health hazards associated with lead poisoning, has already proven to be a success. The percentage of children in eastern Omaha tested with elevated blood lead levels has been reduced from nearly 33 percent prior to 1998, to less than two percent today.

The cleanup is also paying significant economic benefits, Brooks said. To date, EPA’s total investments of $247.9 million at the Omaha Lead Site have contributed to community revitalization and redevelopment, improvement of property values, local employment and economic growth.

EPA contracts have provided more than $61 million in spending so far on local materials and local labor, adding about 300 high-paying ($23 to $30 per hour) seasonal jobs to the local economy for each of the past four years. EPA has also awarded $500,000 to a cooperative agreement with the Omaha Metropolitan Community College to provide job training and certifications to local workers, helping to build a skilled labor force to assist in the cleanup, and for future employment beyond the site.

EPA’s related investments in Omaha’s public health education and protection include cooperative agreements of $9.7 million to the City of Omaha for paint stabilization and database development, $3.9 million to the Douglas County Health Department for interior home assessments, $205,000 to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) to support its work at the Omaha Lead Site, and a $50,000 technical assistance grant to the Lead Safe Omaha Coalition.

Today, Regional Administrator Brooks thanked those departments, agencies and groups, along with numerous neighborhood organizations – and the people of Omaha – for working cooperatively with EPA on the continuing cleanup.

EPA’s Omaha mission dates back to 1998, when the Omaha City Council solicited the Agency’s assistance in addressing problems with lead contamination in area soils, prompted by cleanup activities at the former ASARCO lead smelter along the west bank of the Missouri River.

From the early 1870s until it closed in 1997, the ASARCO plant emitted lead and other heavy metals into the atmosphere from smoke stacks and fugitive emissions. Those pollutants were carried by wind and deposited on the ground across eastern Omaha for more than a century. Over time, soils around many residences have also been contaminated with lead from the flaking and deterioration of lead-based exterior paints.

Lead in surface soils poses a serious health risk to children six years of age and younger, and to pregnant women. Lead poisoning can result in learning and behavioral problems, hearing problems, diminished IQ, and kidney damage. EPA also classifies lead as a possible cancer-causing agent.

Parents are urged to have children six years of age and younger tested for lead each year. Testing is available through most local family physicians, and from the Douglas County Health Department.

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Learn more about EPA’s work at the Omaha Lead Site

Learn more about health hazards associated with lead exposure

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