Local arsenic cleanup too slow

A slow cleanup of a hazardous pollutant endangers Minneapolis residents.

Some south Minneapolis yards are getting some new landscaping from the federal government, but the new lawns are nothing to be proud about. As part of an ongoing Superfund cleanup, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of removing soil from up to 600 yards contaminated with arsenic in the vicinity of a former pesticide plant at 28th Street at Hiawatha Avenue.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is linked to a variety of health conditions. It is linked to several kinds of cancer, most notably lung cancer, decreased blood cell production, skin sores, and in extreme cases death can occur.

The true tragedy of this story is the countless number of individuals who were subjected to arsenic exposure for so many years. The pesticide plant closed its doors in 1963, and while no one knew about the arsenic contamination until 1994, the state didn’t even begin testing neighboring soils until 2001. The EPA is currently cleaning up the soils at 200 properties, but a second wave of cleanups for an additional 400 to 500 homes won’t begin until 2009. It is this painfully slow process that has potentially endangered the health of Minneapolis residents.

The EPA has now revealed that new research leads it to believe the former pesticide factory is not the sole source of the high levels of arsenic contamination. Since the EPA is only responsible for a three-quarters-of-a-mile radius from the site of the plant, it will not perform further tests.

That’s fine, the EPA is fulfilling its Superfund obligation (albeit in a typically slow manner), but the Minnesota Department of Health and the Pollution Control Agency should continue to investigate this matter. If it’s true that this is merely the tip of the contamination iceberg, then action needs to be taken immediately. A known hazard to human health should not be left to fester in our soils, and this current effort to clean up has already taken 13 years. That’s 13 years too many of arsenic exposure for Minneapolis residents.