Long-dormant pesticide plants may have left contaminants. Letters have begun to arrive this week at 50 homes where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted backyard soil sampling for toxic chemicals possibly linked to long-shuttered industrial plants in the Park Hill neighborhood.And at least one of the letters, to homeowner Marvin Hayes, revealed elevated levels of cancer-causing arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene, considered to be a probable cancer agent. That letter also acknowledged the presence of two other toxic contaminants: lead and the banned pesticide dieldrin.
Hayes, who has lived on the 1700 block of St. Louis Street for three decades, was taking the news in stride Thursday afternoon.
“For as long as I’ve been here, there’s no sense in getting alarmed now,” he said. “It is what it is.”
But he noted the technical nature of the letters and said he has questions about health risks and cleanup that he hopes the EPA will answer soon.
The letter to Hayes from the EPA’s Art Smith, a Louisville-based on-scene coordinator, did not say whether the agency would excavate the dirt and replace it, and it was vague about potential health risks posed by the pollutants.
That two of the pollutants exceeded EPA “screening levels” highlights “potential contaminants that should be investigated further,” the letter said.
Smith, reached by phone, said he could not discuss the EPA’s findings until next week, after a press release is scheduled to be distributed. He declined to answer questions about whether any of the soil sampling results from any of the 50 yards indicated the need for cleanup activities, such as excavation and replacement of soil.
Environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, called on the EPA to “promptly schedule one or more meetings, convenient to the neighbors in the evening, to present the sampling information and the next steps that will be taken.”
He said the EPA needs to present its finding “in a manner that is less technical and more comprehensive than the individual letters” and he said the EPA should also invite the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. a federal public health agency, “to address any questions concerning exposure and health.”
The Kentucky Division of Waste Management last year reported high levels of long-lasting pesticides such as DDT and dieldrin on the 29-acre site where the Black Leaf 40 and other pesticides were manufactured decades ago. The state also found toxic heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.
Last year the state turned the investigation and cleanup over to the EPA’s Superfund program, which deals with the nation’s most polluted properties. In October, EPA sampled nearby alleys and found elevated arsenic and lead levels, but no major concerns about pesticides, and then agency officials came back in February to sample in the residents’ yards.