Government officials in several states and cities are expanding investigations or warning residents of health threats from forgotten factories that spewed toxic lead dust in neighborhoods decades ago. A U.S. senator on Monday called for a Senate hearing on what can be done.
Actions are underway in at least 14 states in response to a USA TODAY investigation, published last month, that revealed government regulators did little to protect the public from lead "smelter" factories that operated from the 1930s to 1960s. The Environmental Protection Agency was given a list of the smelter sites in 2001 but little has been done at many of them. Children are at greatest risk, suffering lost IQ and other health issues from ingesting lead particles by putting dust-covered hands or toys in their mouths.
"As USA TODAY has revealed, Americans living in communities across Ohio and the United States may be exposed to lead contamination from former smelting operations," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who asked for a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.
Kate Gilman, a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the committee, said it will address the serious risk posed by lead at two previously planned hearings.
Officials at some national environmental organizations expressed outrage that the EPA has failed for years to warn people living near the old factory sites.
"There aren't words to describe how unconscionable that is," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said: "The failure to communicate was what I thought was so damning."
EPA headquarters officials did not respond to interview requests. Meanwhile, officials continue to take action nationwide. Soil tests are planned around sites in Atlanta; Portland, Ore.; and Silver Lake, Ind., in addition to 11 other states where testing, cleanups or other actions are underway.
In Cleveland, health officials have canvassed neighborhoods with brochures and tested airborne dust near the former Tyroler Metals smelter site. On Saturday, a health mobile will offer children free blood-lead tests. City officials met Monday with the EPA and Ohio state regulators about how to address potential threats.
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