Good Life

Joplin tornado cleanup raises lead contamination concerns

As if Joplin weren’t already facing a massive rebuilding task, the city now must deal with significant and costly lead contamination stirred up by the May 22 tornado and its after-effects.

City officials estimate that it could cost as much as $7.5 million to clean up lead contamination re-exposed by the tornado on some 1,500 properties in damaged areas, and they have asked the federal government for help, according to an Oct. 3 letter the city sent to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“High lead levels in the disrupted soil potentially represent a significant liability issue for Joplin, and a safety hazard for our community as well as a possible impediment to our rebuilding efforts,” according to the EPA letter from Joplin Mayor Michael Woolston. High lead levels in children can cause cognitive and developmental disorders.

EPA officials said late Wednesday that they were working with the city to help identify and restore the properties, adding that the agreement “will include some type of funding mechanism.”

In the meantime, however, the city has stopped issuing building permits for some highly contaminated properties in heavily damaged areas until the contamination has been cleaned up.

Properties can be remediated by hauling off contaminated soil or adding layers of topsoil, depending on the level of contamination, according to Jasper County officials.

Lead and cadmium contamination has long been an issue in Joplin, much of which is honeycombed by long-abandoned lead and zinc mines.

The EPA began a massive cleanup effort around Joplin in the early 1990s that is still going on. About 2,400 contaminated properties, mostly in northwest Joplin, were eventually cleaned up by hauling out contaminated soil and replacing it with clean soil.

Some areas of the city remain part of an EPA Superfund site.

But the May 22 tornado, which killed 162 people and damaged about 7,500 residences, also disturbed ground that had long encapsulated toxic levels of lead.

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