Iola residents opt to have EPA cleanup their yards

Iola residents opt to have EPA cleanup their yards

Over the past few years, the EPA has tested 2,500 properties in Iola, Kansas for lead in the soil. Today, officials were out getting signed access from homeowners to begin phase 2 of remediation work.

Vickie Fontaine wasn’t surprised to find out that there are unsafe levels of lead on her property. She’s opting to allow the EPA to cleanup her lawn in the coming weeks.

“My thing is why wouldn’t you? And I know a little bit about EPA and when I’m getting ready to sell my home I don’t want to have to take care of it at my expense and they’re going to come in and take care of all of that so I think it’s to my advantage,” says Fontaine.

In the early 1900’s, natural gas was used for zinc and lead smelting operations, leaving yards contaminated with elevated levels of toxins.

“It’s especially harmful to children, with developmental issues and so that’s really why we want to get it out of the soil because kids are prone to play in the dirt and then lick their fingers and get it into their system that way,” says Randy Schademann of the EPA.

In May 2013, the former United Zinc and Associated Smelters Superfund Site was added to the EPA’s National Priority List.

“It has a negative connotation to be put on the NPL list so we eventually decided to do that just so we could get this cleanup all done and we wouldn’t have to be considered a contaminated city,” says Iola City Administrator Carl Slaugh.

Prior to the remediation work, contractors meet with homeowners to determine exactly which parts of land to remove.

“Each owner points out areas that they may want to save or they may have some bushes they want to retain and so we just walk though it with the homeowners,” says Schademann.

Phase 2 of the project includes 350 houses with levels of lead deemed dangerous to children.

“We’re kind of prioritizing it by the concentrations in the yard so we’re taking those with the higher concentrations first,” continues Schademann.

And even though some of her flowers will have to go, Fontaine is happy to do it for the health of those that will live in her house in the future.

“They’re doing a good thing so I can’t worry about it,” says Fontaine.

The EPA pays for the cleanup, which takes about a day and a half per house. The final phase of the project will begin about a year from now and will include 700 more properties.