The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 20, 2013

426 Joplin yards test high for lead levels after being disturbed by tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. — If you thought Joplin got all of the lead out, think again.

Chunks of it — some the size of tennis balls — have turned up in residential yards that were disturbed two years ago by the tornado. Typically, the lead is revealed where a tree that was uprooted once stood.

Recently, in the 2800 block of South Pennsylvania Avenue, Leslie Heitkamp looked out over a neatly-mowed front yard where one would not expect to find lead contamination. She then pointed to uneven terrain in two places.

“See that mound over there and this one here? There were once trees here. When these trees were uprooted, they exposed the contaminated soil below,” said Heitkamp, the city’s supervisor for the cleanup of lead-contaminated yards in the tornado zone.

In other instances, mining-related waste known locally as “chat’’ has been exposed where foundations and driveways existed before the tornado. Chat contains traces of lead as well as other heavy metals.

Of the 1,091 yards sampled for lead in Joplin’s disaster zone following the May 22, 2011, tornado, 426 require the excavation of lead-contaminated soil. As of last week, 182 lead-contaminated properties have been excavated, according to Heitkamp. Most of the contamination has been found in bands along both sides of South Main Street where mining took place more than 100 years ago.

She said it’s the places where mining occurred in the south part of Joplin in the 19th and 20th centuries that are the hot spots. The mining fields, which were long ago reclaimed for residential housing, were covered with fresh topsoil to build yards.

“There’s an area from Virginia Avenue to Ohio Avenue and from 26th Street to 30th Street where they leveled off the mine fields,’’ she said. “We’re finding big chunks of lead in that area.

“When I show the raw lead ore to the property owner, they think it’s a pretty rock. They want to show it to their kids,’’ Heitkamp said. “I tell them to not bring it into their house if they find some and don’t let the kids play with it.

“If their kids do play with it, I tell them to make sure they have their kids wash their hands before they eat.’’

EARLIER CLEANUP

This is not the first large-scale cleanup of lead-contaminated yards, playgrounds and parks in Joplin.

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a massive campaign to rid Joplin of yards contaminated by fallout from a lead smelter in northwest Joplin. More than 2,300 yards in that area of town and other parts of the city were excavated by the EPA and the yards were replaced.

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