By Debby Woodin
When Dan Farren applied for a permit to rebuild his house after Joplin’s 2011 tornado, he was required to test his yard for the presence of lead and cadmium contamination.
Those test results showed high levels in his yard at 2206 and 2210 S. Kentucky Ave. “At that time, it was up to the homeowner” to pay to replace the tainted soil, Farren said. “Then I found out Joplin had gotten a grant.”
Farren’s yard was repaired from a $500,000 grant the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the city late last year to fix properties affected by the tornado. On Thursday, the EPA announced that it is adding $2.4 million to continue the work of cleaning up properties where children could be exposed to the dangerous metals.
High lead and cadmium levels in children have been linked to learning difficulties. Exposure in adults is not shown to be as detrimental.
The award was announced at Parr Hill Park, where part of the money will be used to clean lead-tainted soil from playgrounds. The city also found lead contamination in Garvin Park at 28th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We want to express our heartfelt thanks” to the EPA and other state and federal agencies that have worked beside residents in the aftermath of the storm, Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said at the announcement. “In making sure that Joplin is on the road to recovery, it is vital to have that cooperation.”
The EPA’s Region 7 administrator, Karl Brooks of Kansas City, and the deputy director of Superfund Remediation, Barnes Johnson of Washington, D.C., came to Joplin on Thursday to announce the new grant.
Brooks said the EPA has been working in the Joplin area for 20 years to clean up heavy metals from mining belts and yards. In recent years, the agency has been working to remove mine tailings in the former Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt and replace the material will clean soil that will allow development of the land to take place.
After the tornado, EPA workers tested air quality each day for several months for asbestos contamination to protect residents and workers who were clearing the debris. The agency also collected nearly 500 tons of household chemicals, appliances and electronics from the debris. “A lot of it was repurposed and recycled at zero cost to the taxpayer,” to keep it out of landfills, Brooks said.
Brooks remembers seeing the severity of the damage immediately after the tornado. “What none of us could immediately see was how much the storm and all of the recovery work had disturbed thousands of residential yards, playgrounds and other properties, exposing the public to toxic lead and cadmium,” he said.
City officials have said the twister tore through a section of Joplin that was a former mining town in the area of Cunningham Park. It also took down or damaged many houses that likely contained lead-contaminated chat in driveways or foundations. The residue was deposited throughout the tornado zone.
Brooks said the additional aid is aimed at helping property owners affected by the contamination who cannot rebuild until their soil is cleaned up.
Johnson said the first obligation of the EPA is the protection of health in the environment. The agency also is charged with mending hazards so that economic development can take place in areas that were blighted.
Sometimes federal agencies can be slow to act, but in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, “It didn’t take us very long at all to see we needed to step up and realign our priorities,” Johnson said.
The EPA has spent $150 million on the Oronogo-Duenweg project. “We’ve seen substantial reductions in children’s lead levels” as a result, Johnson said.
He and Brooks said there likely will be more allocations for Joplin yard cleanup as funding is made available to the agency.
Farren said Rebuild Joplin is close to having his house finished, and, with a yard clean of contaminants, he will be able to live in it again.
“I’m very glad to see this come about,” he said of the additional EPA grant.
It is projected that the $2.4 million will pay for the cleanup of 250 properties.
The city currently has 78 applications pending, and 55 of those have been approved.
PEOPLE MAY PHONE Leslie Heitkamp, at 624-0820, ext. 544, for assistance.
TESTING IS REQUIRED on any property in the tornado zone where children could be present, such as a home or child care center, before a building permit can be issued by the city. For a free test, people may call the Jasper County Health Department at 417-358-0475 or 877-879-9131.
TO BE ELIGIBLE for yard cleanup, property owners must have sustained damage of least 50 percent of the value, have severe soil disturbance, or be building an addition that will require soil excavation.