Of the 166 Pittsburg properties where soil samples were taken to test for lead levels, approximately 50 have lead levels above the risk-based standards set by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Of the 166 Pittsburg properties where soil samples were taken to test for lead levels, approximately 50 have lead levels above the risk-based standards set by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Lead levels in soil found to be 400 parts per million are considered generally acceptable, as they fall below the KDHE risk-based standards. Todd Campbell, an Environmental Protection Agency on-scene coordinator who oversaw the local testing project, told Pittsburg city officials on Tuesday that 41 properties had levels between 400 and 800 ppm, six properties had levels between 800 and 1,199 ppm and three properties had levels above 1,200 ppm.

The three above 1,200 ppm are considered “time critical” properties, meaning they will likely be top priorities for any future remediation action. If residential soil lead levels are between 400 and 1,199 ppm and a sensitive population – children 6 years old and younger, pregnant women – is present at the site, the property may also warrant a removal action.

Before any remediation action is taken, however, an action memo must be signed which allots federal funds to finance the cleanup process. Campbell said he has drafted a memo for the Pittsburg project, but said it could be mid-July before any remediation action is taken.

“The sooner we can start, the better,” Campbell said. “But there is a specific process we have to go through before we can start.”

Some of the properties with lead levels above 400 ppm are local daycare centers. However the EPA, due to privacy laws, cannot discuss how many or which daycare centers fall into that category. Because lead poisoning is most dangerous to children 6 years old and younger, the Crawford County Health Department is working with the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to screen children who attend those daycare centers with soil lead levels above 400 ppm.

“We will be working with the daycare providers, as well as with the parents, to ensure that the children are always in a safe environment,” said Janis Goedeke, county health officer. “We will certainly do any screenings that are necessary and we will also be there to provide educational tools regarding how to deal with and prevent lead poisoning.”

Campbell said the EPA has taken every step necessary to inform daycare center owners of the levels of lead in the soil.

“If I had data, I sent it to them,” he said. “They got outreach information like everyone else did. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what’s in the soil. The question is how much is in a child’s body. That’s why it is important that these children get screened.”

Campbell said that although lead levels at daycare centers — and other properties throughout Pittsburg, for that matter — may be above the KDHE risk-based standards, that does not necessarily mean the children there are at a high risk of lead poisoning. He said it all depends on how much of that contaminated soil the children are exposed to and how often they are exposed to it.

“The level of lead in the soil in combination with the amount of exposure to that soil is what drives how much danger that person is in,” he said.

Another factor that could complicate matters somewhat regarding young children is the possibility they are being exposed to lead in more ways than just from soil. Lead-based paint on toys and house walls also can be a risk factor for children.

“That’s another reason for children 6 and younger to be screened,” said Sue Casteel, regional representative for Region 7 of the ASTDR. “We want to make sure we are protecting the children from all types of lead exposure, not just lead from soil.”

As for the properties throughout the city that have levels above 400 ppm, Campbell said it’s too early to tell what action, if any, will be taken to remedy any problem areas. While nothing is official yet, Campbell said he expects there to be “a few more” than the three properties above 1,200 ppm where a request for remediation will be made. He said the exact number will be determined by more bio-availability testing, which should yield results within two weeks.

Because the data transmittal letters were sent only to the property owners, local residents who are renting are encouraged to contact the property owner to find out the levels of lead in the soil. On a request by Pittsburg City Commissioner Marty Beezley, Campbell said he would consult with an EPA attorney to determine if property owners are at all required to share that information with their tenants.

“I feel that if we take the time to do all of this testing,” Beezley said, “then we need to ensure that this information gets where it needs to be. The person or people living in that property need to know.
“I want this process to be transparent for our citizens,” she said.

The EPA began testing local properties for lead contamination in March, with the bulk of their sampling taking place at residential properties within 500 feet of the former zinc smelters. Local parks, schools, daycare centers and church playgrounds also were tested.

City officials confirmed last week that soil tests at all of the city parks and schools yielded lead levels of below 400 ppm.