September 12, 2012
Maureen Sexton was shocked to learn that the backyard where her grandson used to play with toys is filled with dirt the Environmental Protection Agency now says isn’t safe. “Nobody knew there was a lead factory back there,” said Sexton, 67, who has lived in her home for 23 years. “They don’t want any kids in the backyard; they don’t want any dogs back there.”
Government records say her home and several others in Edison, NJ, were built in the 1970s atop a property where Caswell, Strauss & Co. did smelting in the 1940s and 1950s. A commercial self-storage facility was built on another part of the factory property around 1983, records show.
Tests by the EPA also found several homes outside the former factory’s property boundaries had dangerously high levels of lead. Twelve homes in the area will receive EPA-funded cleanups over the next six months, the agency said.
Residents said the EPA told them to expect two feet deep of soil to be removed from their yards by workers wearing protective suits. The agency said it will oversee a privately paid cleanup by owners of the self-storage facility.
Angela Rodriguez says she’s eager for the cleanup to protect her two children. She had heard of the dangers of lead-based paint but never thought her yard could be a source of poisoning. Anthony Lin, 30, recalls the “oh, crap” moment when EPA staff told him the yard around the home he grew up in was contaminated. Like other neighbors, Lin says he’s worried about how property values will be impacted by the cleanup.
In Newark, NJ, the EPA is still deciding whether to clean up contaminated soil found on part of the grounds of the Society Hill at University Heights III condominiums, which were built in the 1990s. Some of the townhouses sit atop the former site of the M.C. Canfield & Sons solder factory, which old city directories show operated at the site from at least 1912 into the 1950s.
The state’s investigation says it appears metal refining occurred on the site from the late 1800s until the late 1980s. The condo’s board of trustees, in a statement, said it was unaware of the potential danger and takes possible contamination “very seriously.”
All nine soil samples collected by the state near some condo buildings in March showed lead levels above residential hazard standards; three samples contained at least 10 times the amount deemed dangerous for areas where kids play, records show. The EPA took more samples in August to see if a federal cleanup is needed. New Jersey plans no further investigation at these sites:
- Barth Smelting, 99 Chapel St., Newark. Metal refining occurred here from at least 1946 until about 1982, records show. Before that, another company made lead batteries at the site, according to an old fire insurance map. The property is now occupied by businesses. A playground for the Newark Housing Authority’s Terrell Homes, a 275-unit complex, is next to the site. Private homes are across the street. The EPA said it will test soil at the housing complex “as a precaution.”
- Metals Disintegrating, 901 Lehigh Ave., Union. Beginning in 1916, this company produced copper and tin powders, and in 1919 advertised making lead dust and tin dust. The facility now operates under the name ACuPowder International, which produces metal powders and pigments, according to the state’s report. The factory property is in a state cleanup program and has a deed restriction because of contamination with lead, copper, nickel and PCBs. Although the state’s report noted that homes and a Little League field are adjacent to the site, it recommended to the EPA that no further investigation occur. The agency disagreed, and the site will get further assessment. In an email, ACuPowder President Edul Daver said he had no comment.
- Orchard Refining and Smelting Works, 319 Chestnut, Newark. State investigators noted in their report that 35 to 40 row houses exist within 200 feet of this former lead factory site, but the EPA signed off on their conclusion that no further assessment was needed.
- L.H. Mitchell Co., 216 Klagg Ave., Trenton. An auto-repair shop now occupies the former solder factory site, which is adjacent to homes. The factory was listed in city directories from at least 1952 to 1960. The EPA signed off on the state’s conclusion.
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