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EPA wasted 12 years ignoring dangerous lead contamination around hundreds of abandoned smelting sites

Lead contamination

(NaturalNews) A recent USA Today investigation on former lead smelter sites across the U.S. has revealed shocking levels of lead in soils near many of the plants, including in residential areas where children play. The report series explains that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite knowing about the problem for more than a decade, only recently decided to take action after being pressed by a formal petition seeking prompt federal action.

The investigative series, entitled Ghost Factories, first broke the story on the EPA's negligence in screening more than 460 potential lead smelter sites that were brought to its attention back in 2001. Researcher William Eckel had compiled a list of potentially contaminated sites all across the country using old business directories. He published this list in a reputable scientific journal, and relayed the findings to the EPA for further investigation.

But the agency reportedly failed to investigate most of them in the years that followed, and really only started to take the issue seriously in 2012 when USA Today released its Ghost Factories report. Since that time, the EPA has conducted an assessment of all the published sites and released its findings to USA Today -- in these findings, 50 sites were referred for cleanup, while 409 where declared to need "no further action."

Prior to 2012, the EPA had done almost nothing with the recommendations about contaminated sites. According to USA Today, the EPA's regional offices had assessed only a very small number of sites annually, with as many as 38 and as few as two per year. And even after conducting these minimal assessments, the agency was ambiguous in providing guidance on how they should be handled for cleanup.

"When the agency distributed the list to regional offices 'for informational purposes only,' the EPA created an awareness of the sites without a clear expectation for action," wrote Alison Young for USA Today. "Many of the sites lacked addresses or detailed location information needed for the agency to act."

EPA addresses lead sites following report, but some say this isn't enough

For the USA Today investigation, researchers traveled to 13 different states where they collected more than 1,000 soil samples for testing. These samples came from areas surrounding 21 former smelter sites, most of which were discovered to contain dangerously high levels of lead, as expected.

The EPA was made aware of these findings through the report, prompting it to take at least some action of its own accord as to not appear completely useless. But some say these efforts have not been enough, including USA Today investigators who called the EPA's work "cursory and illogical," as the agency failed to conduct proper soil testing at several sites located near residential areas.

"[USA Today]'s report underscores the need for the U.S. to do more to protect neighborhoods and clean up these sites," stated U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "I'm encouraged that the EPA has made progress in identifying these harmful legacy sites, but more must be done to ensure families know about these sites and can protect their children."

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