EPA: 56% Higher Arsenic Levels are OK for South Minneapolis Residents

The EPA has decided how clean is clean enough when it comes to arsenic levels in South Minneapolis. The verdict: 25ppm (parts per million) in residential soil: 56% higher than the naturally occurring 16ppm level – a level the EPA has previously cleaned residential soil to in other areas of the country.

Another way of putting this: up to 25 milligrams of arsenic found in a kilogram of soil is considered safe for South Minneapolis residents.

For background, check here, here, and here.

This is a vast improvement over what the EPA has done to date (cleaned up yards to 95ppm), but falls short of what the EPA has done in other communities around the United States.

Here is a reminder of where we are to date. The proposed clean-up standard would move just to the left of El Paso, TX where the EPA decided 24ppm was acceptible.

Arsenic Clean-Up Parts per Million (PPM)

Southside Pride reports the EPA’s position:

EPA’s arsenic cleanup criticized

Concluding that a “background” arsenic level of 16 kg/mg was normal for the area and citing other sources for the presence of arsenic in the soil, such as ashes from coal-fired furnaces, use of fertilizers and pesticides and presence of the substance in nature, EPA said that removal of a threshold 25 mg/kg arsenic contamination on 488 properties would meet appropriate requirements for the protection of human health and the environment.

The naturally occurring arsenic level in South Minneapolis is 16ppm. The EPA has cleaned properties in other parts of the country to that level, explaining that “Arsenic contamination would be cleaned up to naturally-occurring levels, with a calculated cleanup standard of 16 ppm.” (PDF link) Yet they’ve decided that Minneapolis can be 56% more polluted than other areas of the country?

The EPA’s Tim Prendiville explained why we shouldn’t get worked up about the difference:

“You’ve got to look a lot deeper and do some critical thinking,” said EPA project manager Tim Prendiville. “It’s not going to decrease the risk factor to clean those additional properties,” Prendiville said.

Which doesn’t explain why the EPA has decide that there was enough risk to clean properties elsewhere but not here.


This is an easy problem to solve with money. How much? $5 million is the projected difference between what it would cost to clean properties to 25ppm vs 16ppm. Minneapolis City Council member Gary Schiff, who represents the area, is going to push for the EPA’s own higher standard at the next full city council meeting on June 20th.

One thought on “EPA: 56% Higher Arsenic Levels are OK for South Minneapolis Residents”

  1. Not to sound like a total conspiracy nut or anything, but the average income for a family of 4 in that particular area is $17k, says an older MPR story. Very many residents are people of color, as well as recent immigrants. Do you think if this were happening in a different neighborhood, the response might be greater? I get the feeling that it would be.

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