I had a chance to attend the EPA’s presentation on the state of the arsenic clean-up in South Minneapolis tonight at the YWCA. Quite a few questions were answered.
How did the choose the testing boundary?
They used computer modeling to determine likely air dispersion patterns and later adjusted that to test a full-radius around the test site rather than just likely wind patter directions.
What did the contamination pattern tell them?
An air dispersion pattern should leave a pattern of high concentration levels near the site, tapering off to lower levels as one moves away from the site. However, the actual patter was described by Timothy Prendiville from the EPA as a “buckshot” pattern. Prendiville explained that this suggests arsenic may have been introduced onto some high testing properties from sources other than the CMC plant. For example, one of the highest results tested at 2800ppm on a property near the perimeter of the testing boundary.
What is the clean-up plan?
Properties testing at 95ppm or higher have been cleaned up or will be by the end of 2008. Additional properties will be cleaned up when funding becomes available (2009).
How many additional properties?
197 properties tested at 95ppm or higher.
411 properties tested at 25ppm or higher
541 properties tested at 16ppm or higher
16ppm is considered the “background” level for this area, or what could be considered the naturally occurring level. That doesn’t guarantee that all properties hitting that level will be cleaned up. We were told tonight that the final recommendation for clean-up standards will fall between 16-25ppm.
As a reminder, here is a chart I put together based on arsenic concentrations used in other clean-ups around the country:
How much does this cost to clean up?
$15,000-$20,000 per property. So the difference between cleaning the neighborhoods from 25ppm to 16ppm is approx $2.6 million.
How to be safe
Here is a breakdown of the biggest risk factors for poisoning yourself:
2/3 Ingestion (don’t eat the dirt – and make sure kids don’t either)
1/4 Garden Vegetables (don’t grow plants in contaminated soil)
1/25 Through Skin (don’t walk around barefoot or crawl on contaminated soil)
1/2000 Dust inhalation (don’t breath?)
The point here is that all of these are prevented by reclaiming a property.
Age of Home
Properties with homes younger than 50 years do not seem to have arsenic problems. They have theories on why this is, such as turnover of the soil during construction, but no hard conclusions. Perhaps it’s because there simply are few homes that young in the surrounding test area?
There are approximately 100 properties in the test areas that weren’t tested either due to refusal by owners to cooperate, angry dogs in the yard, etc. So there may be additional properties coming into the results at a later date.
Buying or selling a home in the test area?
If your home has been tested, you should have received a letter from the EPA with your results. As I understand it, this need to be included in your truth in housing statement to sellers. If you threw it away, the EPA can hook you up with a copy.
What can you do?
After this round of open houses (check The Deets’ calendar for additional dates) there will be another round of presentations where the EPA will explain which arsenic level (from the 16-25ppm level) they’ve chosen to use as a clean-up standard. Public statements will be taken at that time.
City Council Member Gary Schiff was there tonight. He’s represents a large part of the effected area and would be a good guy to talk to about additional proactive steps.
The impression I got from attendees is that this is moving very very slow. The arsenic problem at the plant has been a known problem for 13 years and it’s only is the past few years that any residential property pollution has finally been addressed. Going forward, there are still properties will levels higher than 95ppm that need to be cleaned (36, I believe) along with 344 additional properties that need to be recovered to background levels. The funding for those 344 properties won’t be available until 2009, and it will take years to clean them all. As Gary Schiff’s press release earlier today explained, it could take a decade to finally wrap up this clean-up effort.
One last note. It was mentioned that arsenic isn’t the only contaminant that’s found in the soil of South Minneapolis yards. Lead is very common. Especially in the yards of older homes since they’ve likely been painted many times with lead based paints.