Monday, July 26, 2004

Lead in soil may be local phenomenon

By John Kiesewetter and Michael Clark
Enquirer staff writers

The series of findings of lead-contaminated soil in Greater Cincinnati residential and school sites is puzzling to some.

"We were wondering if it was some sort of Cincinnati thing, like chili," says Mick Hans, spokesman for the U.S. EPA regional office in Chicago, which serves Ohio.

It may be.

According to the National Association of Shooting Ranges, the practice of shooting live birds from traps was introduced in the United States in 1831 by the Sportsmen's Club of Cincinnati.Since 1924, the Grand American World Championship for trap-shooting has been held in Vandalia, just north of Dayton.

"There were a wealth of gun clubs in the area," says George Quigley, a Cincinnati-area skeet-shooting historian and activist.

At least two dozen shooting ranges once operated around Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties, says Quigley, secretary for the Fairfield Sportsman's Association.

The association operates an 83-acre gun club in Hamilton County's Crosby Township.

Last week, Mason Schools property became the fifth Greater Cincinnati location in less than two years where potentially dangerous lead levels have been detected on former shooting ranges.

Lead has also been found at Kings Junior and Senior High School in Warren County; Cincinnati Country Day School in Hamilton County; in Butler County at Lexington Manor subdivision in Liberty Township and Brentwood Estates in Fairfield Township.

No illnesses have been publicly linked to the local lead findings, but they have led to multi-million-dollar cleanups and major disruptions in daily lives.

Lead poisoning causes a host of problems, particularly in children.

It retards brain and cognitive development and can cause problems with the nervous system, growth, behavior, hearing, sight, the digestive system and other vital organs.

In other parts of Ohio, where recreational shooting hasn't been as popular, "people aren't as sensitive to old shooting ranges," says Heather Lauer, Ohio EPA spokeswoman.

The U.S. EPA has conducted residential lead cleanups "all over the country," but few were from gun clubs, Hans says. Most were caused by pollution from nearby factories.

Tale of the tainted soil

Lead first made Greater Cincinnati headlines in January 2003 with the contaminated Lexington Manor soil samples.

After being sued by homeowners, Ryland Homes agreed to remove up to 25,000 tons of contaminated soil from 32 homes in the new subdivision. The $2.5 million cleanup should be completed next month.

Last August, Kings schools officials learned that a shooting range was operated for decades by a long-abandoned munitions factory on what is now Kings Junior and Senior High School in Deerfield Township.

The $2 million cleanup by the EPA - paid for with federal money - led to the demolition of the football stadium, which forced Kings football, soccer, track teams to play elsewhere.

More than 24,000 tons of contaminated soil was hauled away.

In March, Cincinnati Country Day School leaders in Indian Hill learned that a portion of two baseball fields had been contaminated by a private club's shooting range. Camargo Club officials said they would pay all expenses. The lead removal is scheduled to be finished next month.

In April, the Ohio EPA said lead was found in Brentwood Estates, a subdivision built in the late 1970s. The Ohio EPA has turned over data on 11 contaminated yards to the U.S. EPA to prepare a lead removal plan.

Mason's 47-acre site for a new elementary off Mason Road was contaminated by the previous owner's private skeet and trap shooting. Mason officials say they do not anticipate the expected cleanup of 4 acres to delay the opening of the school in 2006.Skeet shooting in past

Of the five locations, Lexington Manor is unusual because the developer knew the site was once the Hamilton Sportsman's Association skeet-shooting range.

Developer Harry Thomas Jr. had the land plowed and some of the tainted soil buried in a pit. In September 2000, a Blue Ash environmental engineering firm assured Thomas and Ryland that the property was "suitable for residential development."

Health risks on land slated for development usually are discovered during a "phase one" environmental assessment required by most lenders, says Winfield Ziegenfuss, Ryland vice president for land operations.

The environmental review includes:

• A field inspection for hazardous materials.

• Property title searches.

• Interviews with past owners and neighbors.

• Review of old and new aerial photos.

• A national database search for environmental risks.

"We identify problems through the 'phase one.' Lexington Manor was identified, but the cleanup initiated by the developer was not good enough," says Randy Watterworth, senior site coordinator for the Ohio EPA district office in Dayton.

Too much attention?

With shrinking budgets and manpower, federal and state EPA officials say they have too many other demands to consider mapping old shooting ranges.

Dr. Kim Dietrich, a University of Cincinnati expert on lead exposure to infants, argues that the federal government already has spent too much time and money on lead buried in the suburbs.

To Dietrich, an environmental-health professor who has studied Cincinnati lead poisoning for 25 years, the biggest problem is children exposed to old lead paint in Over-the-Rhine, West End, Avondale and other neighborhoods.

"There is insufficient evidence for spending money in affluent suburban areas, as opposed to the urban areas where there is lead in paint in the interiors and exteriors," he said.


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