EPA announces expansion of South Minneapolis arsenic cleanup


An effort to remove arsenic contamination from South Minneapolis lots will likely be expanded to include 541 more homes than original expected. Informational open houses will be held Nov. 13–15.

Attendees of an Oct. 30 meeting at the Midtown YWCA learned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lowered the threshold of contamination for homes that will be cleaned up in the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination Site.

(Cooper resident Ed Kohler attended the Oct. 30 meeting. He gives an in-depth report, with maps and graphs, on his website, www.thedeets.com. You can read a text-only version of his report at the end of this article. Much more information is available on the EPA’s website.)

The site’s listing last month on the Superfund National Priorities List made the expanded remediation possible.

The EPA tested 7,521 lots — yards, school properties, day-care centers, right-of-way areas along streets and vacant land — in the three-quarter mile radius area as part of its risk assessment. The study found 541 properties with more than the “normal” levels of 16 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic in the soil. (Property owners whose lots were tested should have received letters with the results.)

Approximately 130 properties with concentrations greater than 95ppm have already been cleaned up, with 36 more slated for 2008. Work on the lower levels would not begin until 2009, at the earliest, as funding becomes available, said Tim Prendiville, remedial project manager for the United States EPA.

Before then, the EPA must complete a remedial investigation report and a feasibility study, which would identify cleanup options and the costs involved. That plan would need to be published and presented to the public for comment before the design phase could begin, to determine how to best carry out the cleanup.

Finally, the EPA would need to “get in line” to request funding, said Prendiville. “There are a number of sites similar across country,” he said, adding that he does not anticipate a problem getting funding. Residential cleanups like this one “usually go to the front of the line.”

The EPA has already spent more than $3 million cleaning up the higher-than-95 ppm properties, stated Ward 9 City Council Member Gary Schiff in an email to constituents. Schiff said the cleanup could take as long as a decade to complete. Prendiville would not speculate on how long the project could take. While the EPA wants to get it done “as quick as we can,” there are various factors to weigh, such as the level of disruption to the neighborhoods by the ongoing work.

Prendiville said that, because of the logistics involved, the cleanup process would probably be done by specific areas, rather than targeting higher-level lots or houses with children, as some have inquired.

The EPA had made the assumption that the contamination stems from herbicides and pesticides at the CMC Heartland Lite Yard site, which operated until 1963 on the west side of present-day Hiawatha Avenue near South 28th Street.

While the risk assessment does show that at least some of the arsenic came from the CMC site — likely blown by the wind — samples were not as evenly distributed as expected. “We expected to see a trend of high levels close [to the CMC site],” said Prendiville. “3500 properties didn’t show that type of trend.” Instead, the EPA found “a scattering of high concentrations throughout area” that could have come form a number of factors: dirt brought in, the application of herbicides or pesticides, coal ash from homes heated with coal, or pressure treated lumber, said Prendiville.

Without clear-cut evidence that the arsenic came primarily from the former industrial site, it could be more difficult for the EPA to pursue enforcement funding from a culprit. Prendiville said that enforcement is pursued first in Superfund cases to pay for the cleanup, but he would not speculate whether funds would come from such enforcement in this case.

Prendiville and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Health will be on hand to answer questions at three open houses later this month. By the end of the year, the EPA hopes to have a proposed plan ready for official review and comment at a public meeting.

The open houses are as follows:

Tuesday, Nov.13, 4–6 p.m.
East Lake Library
2707 E. Lake St.

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2–4 p.m. and 6–8 p.m.
Powderhorn Park
3400 15th Ave. S.

Thursday, Nov.15, 2–4 p.m. and 6–8 p.m.
Franklin Avenue Safety Center
1201 E. Franklin Ave.

Minneapolis arsenic meeting with EPA
by Ed Kohler

I had a chance to attend the EPA’s presentation on the state of the arsenic clean-up in South Minneapolis tonight at the YWCA. Quite a few questions were answered.

How did the choose the testing boundary?

They used computer modeling to determine likely air dispersion patterns and later adjusted that to test a full-radius around the test site rather than just likely wind patter directions.

What did the contamination pattern tell them?

Arsenic Dispersion Boundary Map

An air dispersion pattern should leave a pattern of high concentration levels near the site, tapering off to lower levels as one moves away from the site. However, the actual pattern was described by Timothy Prendiville from the EPA as a “buckshot” pattern. Prendiville explained that this suggests arsenic may have been introduced onto some high testing properties from sources other than the CMC plant. For example, one of the highest results tested at 2800ppm on a property near the perimeter of the testing boundary.

What is the clean-up plan?

Properties testing at 95ppm or higher have been cleaned up or will be by the end of 2008. Additional properties will be cleaned up when funding becomes available (2009).

How many additional properties?

197 properties tested at 95ppm or higher.
411 properties tested at 25ppm or higher
541 properties tested at 16ppm or higher

16ppm is considered the “background” level for this area, or what could be considered the naturally occurring level. That doesn’t guarantee that all properties hitting that level will be cleaned up. We were told tonight that the final recommendation for clean-up standards will fall between 16-25ppm.

As a reminder, here is a chart I put together based on arsenic concentrations used in other clean-ups around the country:

Arsenic Clean-Up Parts per Million (PPM)

How much does this cost to clean up?

$15,000-$20,000 per property. So the difference between cleaning the neighborhoods from 25ppm to 16ppm is approx $2.6 million.

How to be safe

Here is a breakdown of the biggest risk factors for poisoning yourself:

2/3 Ingestion (don’t eat the dirt – and make sure kids don’t either)
1/4 Garden Vegetables (don’t grow plants in contaminated soil)
1/25 Through Skin (don’t walk around barefoot or crawl on contaminated soil)
1/2000 Dust inhalation (don’t breath?)

The point here is that all of these are prevented by reclaiming a property.

Age of Home

Properties with homes younger than 50 years do not seem to have arsenic problems. They have theories on why this is, such as turnover of the soil during construction, but no hard conclusions. Perhaps it’s because there simply are few homes that young in the surrounding test area?

Missing data

There are approximately 100 properties in the test areas that weren’t tested either due to refusal by owners to cooperate, angry dogs in the yard, etc. So there may be additional properties coming into the results at a later date.

Buying or selling a home in the test area?

If your home has been tested, you should have received a letter from the EPA with your results. As I understand it, this need to be included in your truth in housing statement to sellers. If you threw it away, the EPA can hook you up with a copy.

What can you do?

After this round of open houses (check The Deets’ calendar for additional dates) there will be another round of presentations where the EPA will explain which arsenic level (from the 16-25ppm level) they’ve chosen to use as a clean-up standard. Public statements will be taken at that time.

City Council Member Gary Schiff was there tonight. He’s represents a large part of the effected area and would be a good guy to talk to about additional proactive steps.

The impression I got from attendees is that this is moving very very slow. The arsenic problem at the plant has been a known problem for 13 years and it’s only is the past few years that any residential property pollution has finally been addressed. Going forward, there are still properties will levels higher than 95ppm that need to be cleaned (36, I believe) along with 344 additional properties that need to be recovered to background levels. The funding for those 344 properties won’t be available until 2009, and it will take years to clean them all. As Gary Schiff’s press release earlier today explained, it could take a decade to finally wrap up this clean-up effort.


One last note. It was mentioned that arsenic isn’t the only contaminant that’s found in the soil of South Minneapolis yards. Lead is very common. Especially in the yards of older homes since they’ve likely been painted many times with lead based paints.