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EPA looks into plants' lead risks

| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 9:48 p.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency is re-examining more than 460 former lead factory sites across the nation for health hazards left by their toxic fallout onto soil.

The effort, a result of a USA TODAY investigation, involves locations in dozens of states and has identified several sites needing further investigation and some so dangerous that cleanups are being scheduled, according to records and interviews with state regulators.

In Portland, Ore., one home's yard is so contaminated with lead and arsenic that 20 tons of soil will need to be removed; three nearby homes also likely will need cleanups.

State regulators in New York have identified at least six sites in New York City and one in Syracuse that are “of particular concern,” plus at least six others that need further investigation, a report says.

In Detroit, the EPA has found enough potential hazards at an old factory property lined by homes that the agency has reversed a state determination five years ago that no further action was needed.

In Illinois, two Chicago sites are slated for cleanups and eight others have been flagged for more study.

In Cleveland, three sites are being looked at for possible cleanups and “several” more have risks needing deeper investigation.

Regulators are also testing soil in neighborhoods in Maryland, Georgia and New Jersey.

These actions are in addition to those previously reported, including a $1.26 million EPA cleanup of several yards in Edison, N.J.; a cleanup recommendation at a Newark condo complex; and actions taken to address lead in the athletic fields at a New York City park built atop a smelter site.

“I'm glad that the federal government has taken seriously the reports from USA TODAY and my request to investigate the residual contamination,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

In May, Brown and five other U.S. senators called on the EPA to examine the smelter sites. “Thousands of Ohioans, including infants and small children, may have been unknowingly exposed to dangerously high levels of lead .” EPA officials have not responded to interview requests about their national smelter initiative since Sept. 28. USA TODAY obtained the agency's smelter strategy memo under the Freedom of Information Act.

In April, USA TODAY's “Ghost Factories” investigation revealed that the EPA was given a list in 2001 of forgotten lead factories that primarily operated during the 1930s through the 1960s, before the era of environmental regulation. The EPA was warned that many of the long-closed factories had likely contaminated the soil in surrounding properties.

USA TODAY found regulators had done little to investigate many of the sites or warn thousands of families and children in harm's way. The series is at ghostfactories.usatoday.com.

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