Land use | Ecotrope

When Your Lawn Is A Former Lead Smelter Site...

Ecotrope | Nov. 16, 2012 4:36 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 3:35 p.m.

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… it might look like the pictures above at some point.

I stopped by 236 SW Flower St. in Portland yesterday to see what a lead contamination clean-up looks like. Check out the slide show above for pictures of the project, which is removing 20 tons of soil that exceeds safe levels for human exposure to lead.

There were a half-dozen people in protective white suits and masks tearing up sod and digging up soil outside a duplex that was built on a site where Multnomah Metals left waste from a lead smelter decades ago.

The lead contamination under the lawn in some places is 150 times the human health risk limit, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

This is one of two Oregon sites flagged by a USA Today investigation of “Ghost Factories” across the country. So, Portland is by no means alone in dealing with the problem of legacy lead pollution.

According to DEQ project manager Scott Manzano, the state got money from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 to sample soil in this neighborhood. So, regulators knew that some of the soil on people’s properties had too much lead in it. But the USA Today story flagged lead contamination on five properties that the state didn’t know about.

The state responded by investigating those sites and reaching an agreement with the property owner at 236 SW Flower St., who will pay between $42,000 and $90,000 for the clean-up.

The clean-up involves removing some of the most contaminated soil and capping the rest with brick or clean soil and vegetation.

Manzano said the risk from lead contamination comes in when people have direct contact with the soil – when they’re gardening or when kids are playing in the dirt. It doesn’t incorporate itself into the plants that are growing in the soil at a level that would make garden foods dangerous to eat, he said.

The smelter recycled metals including used lead batteries, Manzano said, and one of the byproducts of the smelting process was slag waste.

“The former smelter was on this property itself,” he said. “It was demolished in the early 70s and this house was built in the mid-70s on top of the former smelter property. It appears to me that the house was built on smelter waste.”

I couldn’t track down the property owner, Boni Halton, and neither could USA Today.

But here’s a video interview USA Today did with the next door neighbor, Barbee Williams, whose yard contains soil lead at more than twice the limit for human health risk.

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