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  QUESTION: 5500 ppm lead in soil, 20 Oct 2002, West Virginia USA

I've recently found the land at the home we rent is 5500 parts per mil. contaminated with lead....My sons were tested about 2 months ago and came up negative.. however MY question is...once you test negative....can you 1,2,3,4 or even 10 years later test positive for lead?. I've been told it doesn't always show up at first implications of the hazard. Another question is. HOW do you get it OUT of land when its been contaminated with a steady, purpose, rate by someone for the last almost 20 years possibly more? IS it safe for us to live here if they dig the land up to free it from the poison? I've been looking for a place to live and it is hard to find one in our area. It is a VERY dusty place and I hear that is also bad for the home as well.

Tamara

ANSWER: 29 Jul 2004

Dear Tamara,

I feel sure that the lead poisoning prevention staff at the West Virginia health department or EPA would be very happy to assist you if you ask them for the following:

  • guidelines on management of lead contaminated soil
  • your rights as a tenant to be advised of lead hazards in your home
  • your options in protecting your children from the identified lead hazard of 5,500 parts per million lead in soil and possibly no grass cover (or is it dusty for another reason
  • is there an obvious source of lead dust in the air like a lead mine or smelter, lead acid battery recyclers or cement works in the area?)
  • suggested frequency of blood lead tests for your children or suggested time of the next test (this is dependent on the actual blood lead level found in any previous tests and the age of the children and their level of hand to mouth activity)
  • the landlord's duty to abate (remove or cover over) the lead hazard in your soil and the health department's or EPA's duty or capacity to investigate where the lead came from (in case for instance, there is peeling or chalking paint that potentially poses an even greater lead hazard for your children than the soil).

The answer to your question: once you test negative....can you 1,2,3,4 or even 10 years later test positive for lead? is most certainly YES. The blood lead level changes all the time so if a person is currently not getting much lead into them and then a landlord sends a contractor in to dry sand leaded paint while the children remain in the house, the children's blood lead levels could certainly go up. If they are old enough, in ten years time they could be exposed to lead at work or in a hobby like shooting or leadlighting. As circumstances change, if lead exposure risks increase, the blood lead level should be checked as it could go up at any time in response to increased exposure. The blood lead level can also rise due to stored lead from the bones being released back into the blood stream eg during pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, ageing, bone breaks, huge changes in a person's physical activity levels (increased OR decreased), in response to certain drugs, etc.

In answer to your question: HOW do you get it OUT of land when its been contaminated with a steady, purpose, rate by someone for the last almost 20 years possibly more? IS it safe for us to live here if they dig the land up to free it from the poison? - there are soil treatments available in some areas and contaminated soil can be dug up, put through the treatment machine (which separates the contamination from the soil) and the soil can then be replaced in your yard. These machines are rare however so the US EPA normally advises replacement of the contaminated soil with uncontaminated soil. Depending on the age of your children and their hand to mouth activity and the efforts of the contractors to reduce dust dispersion during the soil replacement operation, they may or may not be safe to stay in the house at the time so sending them away for the day would be a good precaution. You still have to ensure that the workers know and act on the need for dust dispersion to be minimised. You could ask for a clean-up of dust off all hard surfaces inside and outside the house if necessary or carry this out yourself at the end of the day using lead-specific detergents.

Good luck with it all
Yours sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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