EPA's Region 6 Office
Serving: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 Tribal Nations
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q1: Is there an imminent health risk associated with soils in the defined site area?
A1: The risks associated with these soils would not be considered an "imminent health risk." However, Federal, State and city/county health agencies all agree that residential soil lead levels over 500 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg), and residential soil arsenic levels over 46 mg/kg could pose an unacceptable level of risk to children in the 1 to 6 year age range. Children with the greatest degree of hand-to-mouth behavior (1, 2, and 3 year old children) would be at greatest risk.
Q2a: What can we conclude from the childhood blood lead levels reported in El Paso?
A2a: Over all, the childhood blood lead levels reported in El Paso appear to be similar to the childhood blood lead levels reported in other large metropolitan areas of Texas. There are some areas of El Paso that appear to have a higher percentage of children who have blood lead levels above 10 μg/dl than other areas of the city; however, a focused study on El Paso has not been conducted. Thus we need to be cautious in our interpretation of this data.
Q2b: Are childhood blood lead levels linked to soil lead levels?
A2b: Childhood blood lead levels are a reflection of lead exposure from all possible sources combined. This can include lead from residential soil, household dust, interior and exterior household paint, food, water, some kinds of pottery, and some "folk medicine" home remedies such as azarcon and greta. There have not been any recent systematic studies of children in El Paso to look at the contribution of soil lead levels to blood lead levels; however, studies conducted in other areas have indicated that lead in soil and dust can be a significant exposure pathway. Currently, the Texas Department of Health is trying to use the existing soil and blood lead data to develop a statistical model to determine what the best predictors of child blood lead levels are for children in El Paso. Some of the factors that they will try to look at include the age of housing, family socioeconomic status, child's age, residential soil lead levels, and distance to the smelter.
Q2c: What health issues are of greatest concern for children residing in the site area?
A2c: Children are more sensitive to the effects of lead than adults. Lead can affect children in different ways depending on how much lead the child swallows. Ingesting large amounts of lead can cause severe health effects such as anemia, kidney damage, colic, muscle weakness, and brain damage. Ingesting small amounts of lead may result in effects such as learning and behavior problems, slow development, and IQ loss in children as well as other developmental effects you may not see.
Q3: If the site is proposed to the National Priorities List (NPL), how will we characterize the properties that were not tested? What happens if property owners undertake the soil cleanup themselves?
A3: So far, out of approximately 7,000 properties in the area, about 2,100 have been tested. Additional properties will be sampled in the next several months. At this time, EPA studies and historical data suggest that the focus of the sampling is appropriate within parts of the three-mile study area. Based on laboratory results of the currently sampled properties within the study area, the study may be enlarged or reduced. This is an ongoing process. It is premature to characterize properties that were not tested, under an NPL scenario since no decisions have been made on proposing the site to the NPL.
When the property owner performs his or her own cleanup, he or she can contact EPA’s local office and EPA will collect confirmation soil samples to document if all contaminated soils have been removed from the property. If the property owner does decide to perform their own cleanup they should hire an environmental cleanup contractor, therefore they should be in compliance with any applicable state and federal laws. However, most owners prefer EPA to address cleanup of the property.
Q4a: What is the effect of the current soil removal action?
A4a: Removal of lead and arsenic-contaminated soil from residential yards eliminates the soil ingestion exposure pathway, and therefore reduces the likelihood of exposure to lead and arsenic from the soil for current and future residents of the area.
Q4b: Should I still have my child tested for lead poisoning?
Yes. There are many other ways that children may be exposed to lead that may still be present after contaminated soils are removed. The Texas Department of Health, Childhood Lead Poison Prevention Program (TDH-CLPPP) recommends that all children 6 months to 6 years of age should be assessed for lead poisoning at least once every year. Check with your doctor, or City / County Health Department to make an appointment:
915-771-5702 (El Paso)
505-528-5152 (New Mexico)
Q5: Will this site eventually be proposed to Superfund?
A5: EPA can not project if this site will be proposed to Superfund’s National Priorities List. This process has been temporarily placed on hold pending results of the working groups’ reports and recommendations. It is important that cleanup work continue in the meantime to protect public health.