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EPA plans soil removal at nine Lockport homes because of lead tests

Soil could be excavated and removed from nine residential lots in the Lowertown section of Lockport because of test results showing what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls "slightly elevated levels of lead" in the ground.

Residents could refuse to allow the EPA to work at their homes, but Frank Fitzsimmons of Mill Street said Wednesday he favors the plan.

"Let them dig it up. Get it out of here. I'd rather it would be gone. There would be less problems later," Fitzsimmons said.

Nineteen other homes in the area also were tested last fall, but those results are not yet complete, EPA spokesman Michael Basile said.

The neighborhood borders on the Eighteen Mile Creek Superfund site, where the EPA has bought out five homeowners and demolished a burned-out factory and an abandoned warehouse in the past few years because of contamination, including lead and cancer-causing PCBs.

Soil samples at the first batch of nine homes showed no PCBs, Basile said, but they did find lead above the EPA safety threshold of 400 parts per million.

The first nine homes, where samples were taken in July, included seven on Mill Street across from the old Flintkote plant the EPA demolished in 2015. The others were nearby, on Chapel and Porter streets.

Basile said the results did not show levels of lead high enough to produce an immediate health emergency. Conditions were different on Water Street, where high water from the creek sometimes flooded backyards and contaminated them with PCBs from Flintkote, leading to the five buyouts in 2014.

But Fitzsimmons said he was given a list of precautions to take.

"The letter I got said if you have a dog, you should wipe their paws off when they come in the house so they're not bringing dirt in the house," Fitzsimmons said. "Don't put your hands in the ground, make sure people wear shoes outside, and when you come in, you take your shoes off so you don't drag it through the house. So there's got to be enough lead in there that they're worried about it, in my opinion."

Fitzsimmons said residents also were told not to eat anything grown in the ground. He said a neighbor of his, Shirley Nicholas, had her highest lead readings in the area she formerly used as a garden.

"I haven't grown any root vegetables in years," Fitzsimmons said. "We ate the radishes years ago, but I don't grow them anymore."

Basile said there will be more testing at the nine homes to determine the depth and extent of the soil that needs to be removed and replaced, with excavations expected to begin either late this year or in 2019.

"We remediate until we don't find lead," Basile said.

He said the lead matches "the fingerprint" of the lead in the Superfund site, but tests didn't confirm the source.

Since the amount of excavation necessary hasn't been determined, neither has the cost of the work, Basile said. The EPA will pay, since responsible parties for the contamination can't be nailed down. Flintkote went out of business following a 1971 fire.

Fitzsimmons, 61, who has lived in the area for 30 years, said residents were warned more than 20 years ago that they had to disclose the possibility of environmental trouble if they tried to sell their homes.

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