Researchers reveal contaminated factory sites unknown to regulators

San Diego, April 2 - Investigators have discovered the sites of 640 former lead smelting factories - most apparently unknown to regulatory authorities - with potentially hazardous levels of lead in the soil where the plants once stood. Regulators were unaware of at least 430 of the sites, many of which are near residential areas in some of the country's major cities.

The locations of the former plants were reported here today at the 221st national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. Factories operated on the sites between 1931-1964.

The sites were discovered by William P. Eckel, a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Eckel, now with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Virginia, conducted the research as part of his Ph.D. thesis. He did the investigation in collaboration with his advisor, Gregory Foster, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at the school, and Michael Rabinowitz, Ph.D., a geochemist with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. The study is published in the April issue of the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health.

High levels of lead are hazardous to health, especially that of young children. They can develop permanent learning disabilities as a result of inhaling or ingesting excessive amounts of lead.

All of the sites in this study were former "secondary" lead smelting plants, producing usable lead from things like automobile batteries, wheel weights and cable covers. Primary lead smelting uses lead ore.

The soil of nearly half of the sites has potentially hazardous lead levels, which in some cases dramatically exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to Eckel. Nearly half these sites are in eight states, he added: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. No such sites were found in 11 states: Alaska, Iowa, Maine,

Contact: Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society

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