Lead could be in homes being torn down on Prairie Street, but crews are taking steps to counter potential harm

Fourteen structures will be torn down as part of planned construction of the Prairie Street railroad overpass.

Posted on June 3, 2014 at 6:05 p.m.

ELKHART — Dust caused by the ongoing demolition of homes along Prairie Street theoretically poses a potential lead threat to adjacent property owners.

On Tuesday, June 3, the subcontractor was wetting the debris with spray from a hose attached to a fire hydrant, though, a measure meant to keep wafting dust to a minimum, thus limiting potential lead problems.

Demolition draws a crowd
The destruction Tuesday, June 3, of a home on Prairie Street just north of Main Street drew a small crowd.
"It’s pretty amazing how the machine tears the thing down,“ said Tony Coleman, who was riding by on his bicycle and stopped to have a look. So slow to build, so quick to demolish.
Bryan Smith, an area resident off work Tuesday, wondered why more wasn’t salvaged from the structure. A refrigerator toppled from the second story of the home as a giant crane knocked it to smithereens,and he noted that he could have used it, presuming it was in working order.
Still, it was pretty impressive.
"It’s pretty awesome,” Smith said.

Fourteen structures are to be demolished along Prairie Street from Main Street north to around Middlebury Street — 11 houses, an apartment building and two businesses. The space is needed to make way for a wider roadway and an overpass crossing the Norfolk Southern Railroad line that bisects Prairie Street in the stretch.

The demolition started last week, according to Leslie Biek, right-of-way engineer for the city of Elkhart, and it’ll continue until around mid-June. Crews are demolishing about a structure per day.

Biek said Tuesday, June 3, that lead testing was not carried out at any of the buildings to be destroyed. However, she explained that the company handling demolition will remove all the debris so it can be processed and properly disposed of at a facility meeting guidelines set by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Lead, which can cause nervous system and brain damage to children if ingested, is of concern in homes built before 1978, prior to a change in U.S. law banning the substance from paints. The homes being torn down along Prairie Street are older structures, thus the houses could contain lead paint, according to Tara Still, an environmentalist with the Elkhart County Health Department.

Presuming lead paint was used in a structure, dust produced when it’s destroyed could contain the substance.

From the archives:

That said, no rules apply with relation to lead remediation in structures being demolished, Still said. Wetting demolition sites helps keep dust from wafting, though. And the crew outside an old home being torn down just north of Main Street on Tuesday kept a hose trained on the structure as it disintegrated, preventing particles from floating off.

Reps from the subcontractor handling demolition reported Monday that the work was more dusty than anticipated, Biek said. They requested permission to tap a fire hydrant for water to keep things damp.

Asbestos, a substance used in insulation and other home-building materials, was found in 10 of the 14 structures being torn down, according to Biek. Asbestos, when released into the air, can lead to lung cancer if inhaled.

The substance was removed from the structures prior to demolition and disposed of.

Rieth-Riley Construction Co. is handling the overpass project. A rep from the firm didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.


Beyond the hose spraying, Still recommended that nearby homeowners worried about lead from dust shut their windows until the work is over. Then, when they re-open their windows, they should wipe window sills and openings with wet rags to remove any accumulated dust.

"It’s kind of a let’s-just-be-cautious thing,“ Still said. A further precautionary measure — washing children’s hands when they come in from play to guard against dust that may have settled in yards.

Various factors bear on the potential threat posed by lead paint, including the quantity used and where it was used, inside or out.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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