Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

OMAHA LEAD
OMAHA, NE

Cleanup Activities

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Background

 

The Omaha Lead Superfund Site is comprised of residential properties, child-care centers, and other residential-type properties in the City of Omaha, Nebraska, where the surface soil is contaminated as a result of deposition of air emissions from historic lead smelting and refining operations. About one out of three residential yards have lead in the soil at concentrations above the health-based limit of 400 parts per million (ppm).  The site boundary encompasses 27 square miles and is centered on downtown Omaha, where two former lead-processing facilities operated. The American Smelting and Refining Company, Inc., (ASARCO) operated a lead refinery at 500 Douglas Street for over 125 years. Aaron Ferer & Sons Company (Aaron Ferer), and later the Gould Electronics, Inc., (Gould) operated a lead battery recycling plant located at 555 Farnam Street for many years. Both the ASARCO and Aaron Ferer/Gould facilities released lead-containing particulates to the atmosphere from their smokestacks. The lead particles were transported through the air and deposited on surrounding residential properties.

It is important to note that although the site boundary encompasses more than 40,000 properties, only the properties where the surface soil is contaminated with lead at a concentration that exceeds the health based limit are included in the site. Residential properties where soil sampling indicates that soil lead concentrations are below 400 ppm are not considered part of the site. Commercial and industrial properties are also excluded from the defined site.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

EPA remediated more than 13,000 residential properties at the site between 1999 and December 2015 in accordance with the Record of Decision (ROD). EPA is also providing funding to the City of Omaha and the Douglas County Health Department to continue efforts to obtain voluntary access to properties where the owner did not grant access to EPA. The testing of soil, exterior lead-based paint, and interior dust are conducted at no cost to the property owner. If the soil needs to be cleaned up, the cleanup is conducted at no cost to the property owner. The cleanup action specified in the ROD includes excavation of soil exhibiting lead concentrations greater than 400 ppm, replacement of contaminated soil with clean backfill, placement of sod, stabilization of lead-based paint to protect the remediated soil, testing of indoor dust, and public education and outreach to assist the public in recognizing other potential sources of lead contamination.

 

 
1998 The Omaha City Council sent a letter to EPA requesting assistance to address the high incidence of elevated blood lead levels found in children.The Omaha City Council sent a letter to EPA requesting assistance to address the high incidence of elevated blood lead levels found in children.
March 1999 EPA began collecting soil from residential properties being used as child day-care facilities.
August 1999 EPA entered into several interagency agreements with the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct Time Critical Removal Actions at more than 250 properties. EPA also issued a Unilateral Order to ASARCO.
April 2003 Omaha Lead Superfund Site listed on the National Priority List (NPL).
December 2004 EPA issued an Interim Record of Decision.
May 2009 EPA issued the Final Record of Decision.
June 2009 Settlement of the court case with ASARCO for more than $200 million.
December 2015 EPA completed the cleanup of 13,090 residential properties.
Ongoing The City of Omaha and Douglas County Health Department continue efforts to address lead contamination issues at the remaining properties where the owner was not willing to grant access to collect soil samples or clean up lead contaminated soil.
 

 

 

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What Is the Current Site Status?

In December 2015, EPA completed the EPA-lead action at the site. Between 1998 and December 2015 EPA collected soil samples from 42,047 residential properties. The results of the soil sampling indicated that 14,019 properties qualify for soil clean up. As of December 31, 2015, EPA completed cleanup activities at 13,090 (93%) of the properties. EPA was not able to obtain access to the remaining properties. In addition to soil sampling and cleanup activities, EPA evaluated 12,057 properties for the presence of exterior lead-based paint. Of the 6,782 residences that qualified, EPA completed lead-based paint stabilization on 6,249 (92%).   EPA also collected dust samples from the interior of 4,477 residences to test for lead in the dust.

Work with the City of Omaha:

Because there were about 1,000 properties where EPA was not able to obtain voluntary access from the property owner, EPA met with the representatives from the City of Omaha to discuss options for completing the work. The City of Omaha requested to be allowed to continue with attempts to obtain access voluntarily.

In May 2015, EPA entered into a cooperative agreement with the City of Omaha to conduct the work at the remaining properties. The agreement and a subsequent amendment provides the City with $42 million to continue work to collect soil samples and conduct soil clean up activities and perform lead-based paint stabilization. The cooperative agreement also continues to fund the City’s development of a publicly available database that will allow the community to determine the status of the residential properties at the site. The database can be found at www.omahalead.org.

EPA does not have the regulatory authority under the Superfund law (CERCLA) to address all of the possible sources of lead that occur in communities. For example, EPA does not have authority to address soil contamination from emissions of lead containing gasoline, indoor lead-based paint, or lead pipes. Yet exposure to lead from these sources can contribute to elevated blood-lead levels in children. Therefore, the cooperative agreement provides the City with funding to conduct lead education and outreach activities to inform the public about all possible sources of lead.

The City of Omaha has obtained access to several residential properties and began cleaning up additional residential properties in September 2017. The City of Omaha has completed cleanup activities at 60 properties as of December 2017.

Work with the Douglas County Health Department:

EPA has a cooperative agreement with the Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) that provides funding for compiling childhood blood lead data and collecting interior dust samples from residences. DCHD collects data from family physicians compiles the data, and provides summary tables to the EPA's Superfund program. The summary data allows the EPA to evaluate the effectiveness of the cleanup work. The DCHD also conducts education and outreach to health care providers to increase awareness of the health effects of lead.

Trends in blood lead levels in children:

Data provided to the EPA indicated that in the 1990's more than 25% of the children in Douglas County between the age of 0-72 months had blood lead levels greater than the then level of concern of 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl). In one specific zip code, as many as 42% of the children exhibited blood lead levels greater than 10 ug/dl. In 2012, CDC adopted the Advisory Committee On Childhood Lead  Poisoning Prevention (ACCLPP) recommendations to eliminate the  term “level of concern” and use a blood lead "reference value" that is  based on the 97.5th percentile of the National Health & Nutrition  Examination Survey  (NHANES) blood lead distributions in children from one to five years of age (CDC, 2012). Using the 2007–2010 NHANES, the blood lead reference value  associated with the 97.5th percentile is currently 5 µg/dL (CDC, 2012). In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, 1.1% of the 20,080 children tested in Douglas County between the ages 0-84 months exhibited blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 ug/dl. and within the eleven zip code Omaha Lead Site boundaries, the 2017 EBL rate was 1.53%.

Partial deletion process:

EPA is currently working on the fourth partial deletion of the Omaha Lead Superfund site. This current partial deletion will partially delete 500 properties following the EPA Guidance, Closeout Procedures for NPL sites. Previous partial deletions in 2013, 2017 and 2018 have deleted 1,549 properties from the Site.

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

As one of the institutional controls at the site, EPA provides funding to the City of Omaha to continue development and maintenance of the Omaha Lead Registry, a database of properties within the boundary of the Omaha Lead Superfund site. The database provides the public with access to information about the status of individual properties. The database can be found at: http://www.omahalead.org/.

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Emergency Response and Removal

Site cleanup has also included removal actions, or short-term cleanups, to address immediate threats to human health and the environment. In 1999, EPA removed and replaced contaminated soils at child care facilities and properties where children had elevated blood-lead levels. In 2002, the removal action expanded to include heavily contaminated properties.

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