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The Washington County Lead District – Richwoods Site includes soil, groundwater, surface water, mine waste, and sediment contaminated with arsenic, barium, cadmium and lead associated with historical mining practices in southeast Missouri. The Richwoods area encompasses about 45 square miles in the northeastern part of Washington County, Missouri.

Washington County is part of Missouri's Old Lead Belt, where lead mining occurred for hundreds of years. While it was being mined, the Old Lead Belt provided about 80 percent of the lead produced in the United States. In Washington County, the first mines were mostly surface diggings advanced by manual labor with a pick and shovel. Starting in 1799, deeper mines were started in the area. Additionally, this area is part of the barite mineralization district of Missouri. After the Civil War, numerous small barite mines operated in Washington County until the early 1900s. Barite mining boomed in 1926 as the mineral's use for oil drilling mud was discovered. For a number of years, before declining in the 1980s, Washington County was the world's leading producer of barite. Many of the large barite mining operations reworked lands that were previously hand-mined for galena (mineral source of lead) or barite. Washington County has hosted over 1,000 lead and barite mining, milling or smelting sites.

Remnants of mining activities throughout the area include strip mines, mineshafts, mine dumps, tailing areas, tailings ponds and associated dams. There are several large tailings impoundments, associated dams and leachate ponds with elevated levels of lead present at the site.

As development in the area progressed over the last 200 years, residents of the area have constructed homes and developments on mine waste. Old tailings ponds are particularly attractive to prospective property owners interested in building near a lake. Historically many people have used mine waste as an inexpensive option for use in gravel driveways or even sand boxes for children. Unfortunately, many people moving into the area are not familiar with the mining history of the area or the health risks associated with exposure to mine waste containing lead, arsenic, and cadmium.   




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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

In 2006, EPA began to clean up lead contaminated soil at residential yards and at one school and to provide water filtration systems to homes where lead in the water exceeds the health-based levels. To date, the EPA has cleaned up contaminated soil at 68 properties and provided water filtrations systems to approximately 52 residences.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

EPA’s remediation contractor, CEJV, began cleaning up lead contaminated soil at residential properties in November 2016. The contract ended in September 2017. From November 2016 through September 2017, CEJV excavated soil at 50 properties. Although the contract has ended, it is important for property owners to understand that EPA realizes there is work that may need to be completed or corrected. EPA is working with ASI, a new contractor, to complete work on any properties where work is necessary. EPA appreciates the property owners’ patience as we work to get the remaining work completed. If property owners have questions, they are encouraged to call the point of contact listed on this page.

During the winter of 2016-17, EPA’s START contractor identified an additional 240 properties that need to be sampled in the Richwoods area. The contractor began collecting soil and water samples from these additional properties in 2017. About one in five properties that are tested qualify for cleanup of contaminated soil. To date about one in seven drinking water supply wells qualify for a water filtration system. Water filtration units are typically considered to be a short‑term solution. EPA is evaluating the source of contamination and options for providing a long‑term alternate source of drinking water for those residents that qualify.


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Emergency Response and Removal

EPA is providing bottled water to 52 residences in the Richwoods area. Response activities include excavation of 14 residential yards and one impacted area of a school's grounds in Washington County. A repository for the contaminated residential yard soil has been established at a former lead tailings impoundment in Washington County.

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