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Fact Sheet

May 2015

Frequently Asked Questions, Former Northwest Metals Site Study, Lincoln, Nebraska


Metal smelting operations have often been associated with elevated levels of metal contamination. This is due to air deposition from their smokestacks and from the reuse of the abundant waste material generated from ore smelting that often contains residual contaminants. In early 2013, after confirming that a secondary metal smelting facility had operated from approximately 1918 until 1961 southwest of the North Bottoms Neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) conducted soil testing at 20 properties in the area. Their efforts identified several properties with elevated soil lead levels, and as a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was asked to further investigate the presence of lead-contaminated soil.

In November 2013, EPA began an extended assessment that included an additional 33 properties. In 2014, additional residential and source assessment work was completed at the site, and further efforts to determine the source of lead contamination were conducted. Source identification activities are continuing into 2015. To date, while no properties have been identified with soil lead levels that indicate a high priority for immediate action, 15 residential properties have been identified by either EPA or NDEQ with at least one yard sample having surface soil lead that exceeds a level of concern (400 mg/Kg). Lead in residential soils can be attributed to a number of different sources, ranging from the historical usage of lead-based paints, leaded gasoline, and pesticides to contaminated fill material, naturally occurring lead in soils, and atmospheric deposition from commercial activities. While smelting operations can produce a number of different contaminants, lead is of particular concern due to its adverse cognitive effects on children under the age of 7 and fetal development during pregnancy. Additional information regarding specific health effects from lead can be found on EPA’s Lead web page.

What are the next steps in the investigation and cleanup process?

EPA will continue to sample properties as interested owners grant us access to do so. Additional analysis is being conducted on existing samples in an effort to determine the source of the lead, such as paint, gasoline, or smelter waste, found in residential North Bottoms soil. At this time, future plans for the site are being developed, which could range from outreach and education to contaminant removal. A final site decision and subsequent action is anticipated by spring 2016.

Will landowners be required to allow access for sampling and cleanup of their properties? How does EPA work with individuals that do not want their property tested or cleaned up?

During the assessment phase, landowners who would like their property sampled will need to submit a signed access agreement granting EPA permission to access their property for sampling purposes. If soil lead levels at a property are found to exceed health-based levels of concern and a cleanup action is the recommended course of action, EPA does not currently require participation in cleanup actions at residential lead sites. However, if a cleanup option is offered and refused, the homeowner would likely be required to disclose sampling results to future owners so they would be aware of the presence of elevated contaminant levels.

How does EPA obtain permission for sampling from absentee landowners? What if an absentee landowner wants to deny access?

EPA will attempt to locate the absentee landowner. EPA has had success in locating absentee landlords at other sites. The policies regarding access, as outlined in the previous question, apply to absentee landowners.

Which properties will be sampled?

Properties located near the former Northwest Metals Site that are potentially impacted by lead contamination from the former smelter will be sampled.

How can I obtain an access agreement?

Access agreements can be requested by calling Pamela Houston, Community Engagement Specialist, EPA Region 7, at 913-551-7699 or 1-800-223-0425.

How quickly will I know if my yard exceeds acceptable lead levels?

After receiving a signed access agreement, EPA will sample soil in your yard for lead. The results will be provided to property owners and tenants after a thorough review of the data has been completed, usually within 5 to 6 weeks.

If my property screening results exceed health-based levels of concern, what actions might be taken?

EPA is committed to protecting the public health of all residents. Decisions on what actions should be taken to protect public health will be based upon soil lead concentration levels, contaminant location, and child usage. Actions can range from public education to soil removal.

Is there a cost to the homeowner?

Current EPA policy is to assess residential properties at no cost to the homeowners or current resident.

What about contaminated commercial properties?

EPA plans to prioritize contaminated properties that pose immediate health risks. Commercial properties typically pose a lower threat to children and the public. When warranted due to potential health concerns, EPA will assess these properties on a case-by-case basis.


If you have questions or need additional information, please contact:

Pamela Houston
Community Engagement Specialist
Enforcement Coordination Office
EPA Region 7
11201 Renner Boulevard
Lenexa, Kansas 66219
Phone: 913-551-7699
Toll-free: 1-800-223-0425
Email: houston.pamela@epa.gov

Todd Campbell
On-Scene Coordinator
Superfund Division
EPA Region 7
11201 Renner Boulevard
Lenexa, Kansas 66219
Phone: 913-551-7115
Email: campbell.todd@epa.gov

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