In 2001, a doctoral student researching the history of the lead smelting industry discovered that more than 400 former smelting sites across the country were unknown to the EPA. The abandoned sites had been "secondary" smelters -- facilities that recycled scrap lead -- and had slipped through the regulatory cracks because they shut down before cleanup requirements came into effect.
According to a map produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in 2004 (see below), eight of these sites were located in Pittsburgh. The map was produced to help health professionals identify areas where children might be at higher risk for elevated blood lead levels. The sites themselves are mostly paved or under cover, but the soil in yards and playgrounds nearby might be contaminated with lead.
Last year, a USA Today investigation revealed that the EPA had still not tested lead levels near most of the sites.
In 2005, EPA contractors conducted visual surveys of at least six of the Pittsburgh sites. They concluded that four sites did not require any further assessment: three in the Strip District and one on Main Street in Bloomfield. Two sites were listed as warranting further testing because they were close to residential properties: one on Gross Street in Bloomfield and one at the corner of Gloster Street and Path Way in Hazelwood.
The sites in Bloomfield and Hazelwood have not yet been tested. "The EPA will do what it said it would," an EPA official told the Post-Gazette when asked whether any progress had been made on assessing the sites. The agency plans to perform the assessments within the next few months, in consultation with the Allegheny County Health Department and state health authorities. The assessments will include some soil tests in nearby areas, the EPA said.
No children with high blood lead levels have been reported from the areas around the former smelting sites, said Health Department director Karen Hacker.
Information on preventing lead poisoning can be found on the Allegheny County Health Department website at http://www.achd.net/lead/ or by calling 412-350-4048.