PUEBLO, Colo. - Unhealthy levels of lead and arsenic have plagued certain neighborhoods in Pueblo for decades.
Agents with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were in the Steel City Tuesday to oversee continuing cleanup efforts in the Colorado Superfund Area.
This area includes Pueblo neighborhoods like Bessemer and Eilers Heights.
These neighborhoods aren't far from the silver smelter site that caused the lead and arsenic problems more than a century ago.
Crews dug up to 24 inches of soil containing unhealthy lead levels and replace it with clean soil.
“We worry about hand-to-mouth transfer," said Sabrina Forrest the Lead Remedial Project Manager. "We worry about tracking contamination into the nearby homes.”
The EPA has tested homes and yards for lead levels in the Superfund area caused by the smelter site since 2015.
So far, EPA crews have sampled soil from more than 1,000 homes and the air inside 650 homes. Testing shows near 50% of the soil on properties and around 30% of the homes are at unhealthy levels.
Forrest says the lead problem isn't dangerously toxic in Pueblo. However, there are increased health risks for adults including increased blood pressure and kidney problems. The greater health risks are directed towards pregnant women and young children.
"Children of six and younger is where the really bad effects are, cause there is permanent central nervous damage," said Forrest. "It can really affect IQ and ongoing learning difficulties throughout life.”
Dawn Robinson and her young family, which includes a 2-year-old and 3-year-old, just moved to the Eilers neighborhood back in November. Tuesday, a lead cleanup was being conducted on 1200 block on Berwind Avenue, just a few houses away from Robinson's home.
“We did not know about the lead problem when we moved here," said Robinson. "We were not aware of it at all.”
The Robinsons soon learned that their property will also need to be dug up as well and replaced with cleaner soil. For them, it couldn’t happen any sooner.
“It’s very exciting, I’m glad that it’s getting closer to them coming in and doing our yard," said Robinson. "We want it so that the kids can be outside and playing and we don’t have to worry about them getting sick or having any issues down the road.”
Despite all the construction crews, Forrest says people have been more than accommodating throughout this process.
“They say, 'Let’s take care of this, I know this is a problem how quickly can we do it," said Forrest "That’s why we’ve been trying to move this process along, and as quickly as we can.”
Crews are on track for 130 cleanups this year alone and hope to be done by 2022.
The EPA encourages Pueblo residents in the Bessemer, Eilers Heights, and Grove neighborhoods to get their properties and homes tested for lead and arsenic levels. Cleanup and testing don't cost residents or property owners anything.
If you would like to get a free test please contact the Colorado EPA offices at this number: 1800-227-8917 Ext. 312658.