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MO Town to Tackle Storm-Churned Toxins

Monday, December 19, 2011

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Seven months into its recovery from massive tornado damage, the city of Joplin, MO, will receive $500,000 in federal aid to begin the enormous task of remediating lead exposed in up to 1,500 properties.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday (Dec. 16) that it had issued a cooperative agreement with the city to cover costs of soil sampling and remediation at properties where lead-tainted soil was exposed by the May 22 tornado and subsequent demolition, excavation and tree removal.

 President Obama visited Joplin one week after the tornado hit

 Official White House photo / Pete Souza

President Obama visited Joplin one week after the costliest tornado in U.S. history devastated the town and killed 160 people.

The agreement will provide $500,000 in funding from the Superfund program to:

• Hire a full-time city inspector/remediation coordinator;

• Hire a part-time environmental specialist to assist the implementation of a soil testing and yard remediation plan;

• Conduct competitive bidding for one or more contractors to perform yard remediation work; and

• Pay for a vehicle, equipment, supplies, and travel expenses.

Mile-Wide Twister

The EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck Missouri’s fourth-largest metropolitan area on a Sunday afternoon and was a mile wide at its peak, wreaking widespread, catastrophic damage on residential, commercial and institutional areas.

The 14-mile-long storm path destroyed more than 1,500 homes, retailers and the town’s high school and caused heavy structural damage to a regional medical center, a nursing home, and several other schools.

 Joplin’s main hospital (rear) was heavily damaged

 Intelati / Creative Commons

Joplin’s main hospital (rear) was heavily damaged, and a theater (foreground) was among the more than 1,500 homes, buildings, schools and other institutions that took direct hits from the tornado. Engineers criticized the tilt-up construction used to build a Home Depot where all but two walls collapsed in a domino effect, killing seven people.

The storm killed 160 people, and damage has been estimated at $3 billion, the costliest tornado in U.S. history. In all, more than 8,000 structures were damaged.

Lead Sampling

Joplin city officials made a formal request for EPA’s assistance in November, noting that as many as 1,500 lead-contaminated residential properties may exist in the tornado-impacted areas of the city.

Preliminary testing of 43 properties by the Jasper County Health Department found elevated average levels of lead in yard soils at 19 of the properties.

“EPA is pleased to provide this financial support so that the rebuilding of Joplin can proceed without delay,” EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks said Friday.

“EPA responded immediately to Joplin at its time of greatest need in May, and through this cooperative agreement, the Agency extends its support by providing necessary funding to speed the redevelopment of Joplin’s neighborhoods.”

Mine Waste Cited

Lead isn’t Joplin’s only hazardous waste problem. With the area’s history of lead and zinc mining, many areas of surrounding Jasper County may also have cadmium and other mine waste contaminants, the city reported in October.

Soil testing by EPA in the 1990s found high levels of mine waste contaminants on properties throughout the county, resulting in city and county ordinances declaring certain areas “smelter zones” with unacceptable contaminant levels.

 USACE image maps the structural damage of the multiple vortex tornado


A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers image maps the structural damage of the multiple vortex tornado that devastated a vast swath of Joplin, MO, on May 22, 2011.

While most of the tornado-affected area is outside the mine waste areas and smelter zones, tornado damage and winds could have created dangerously elevated levels of toxins that once were at or below acceptable levels.

Mine waste material was used for fill underneath yards, driveways, sidewalks and crawl spaces when the now-destroyed homes were built.

A 2006 county health ordinance, passed as part of EPA’s Superfund work to address lead contamination in the area, requires properties to undergo lead sampling before redevelopment in the mining and smelter areas of the county.

‘Mine Your Own Property’

The city has advised residents to watch for:

• Excessive paint chips in the soil;

• The presence of “chat” (lead-zinc mining waste) where concrete structures were removed; and

• Unnatural soil formations similar to mine waste or chat that become visible during excavation.

The city has developed a “Mine Your Own Property” fact sheet, advising residents of the risk of high levels of lead and cadmium in the soil.


Tagged categories: Cleanup; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Lead; Regulations

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