In Mo., worry over lead waste

July 18, 2009
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LEADWOOD, Mo. - For generations, people in Leadwood have lived near huge piles of dangerous, lead-contaminated mining waste. Now the Environmental Protection Agency has decided the answer to the problem is to pile on more lead-tainted earth.

To many, that makes no sense at all.

“They’re going to bring in more dirt that’s poisoned and bring it down here, and we don’t want it,’’ said Dan Rohrbach, 55, who lives near one of the piles in this town of 1,200 people. “Why are we being treated like second-class citizens?’’

Under the plan, which is still being aired in public hearings and has no fixed starting date, 300,000 tons of lead-laced soil from neighboring Jefferson County will be trucked in and spread over some of Leadwood’s tailings, the sandy material left over from a century of mining.

The EPA, struggling with the longstanding problem of lead contamination in the slice of southeastern Missouri known as the Old Lead Belt, said that will accomplish two things: remove lead contamination from Jefferson County, and help grass grow over the tailings in Leadwood. That will fix the waste in place and keep the lead from blowing around or from washing into streams when it rains.

“What we’re trying to do is consolidate the waste,’’ said EPA Superfund project manager Jim Silver. “Right now, this lead is all over everywhere.’’

Residents in Leadwood, though, see the solution as worse than the original problem.

“They don’t want it, and we don’t want it, either,’’ said resident Lee Butcher, 50. “The idea that you’re moving it out of Jefferson County and bringing it here doesn’t make sense.’’