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Elkhart mayor downplays lead dangers from Prairie Street demolition, but others remain leery

Fourteen buildings are being torn down, and some worry about lead particles from lead-based paint in dust caused by the demolition.

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.

ELKHART — The demolition of numerous buildings along Prairie Street for a railroad overpass project shouldn’t lead to any environmental problems, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore maintains.

In a statement Friday, June 6, his office offered assurances amid skepticism from some worried about lead poisoning that the demolition “is not creating any environmental concerns or issues.” It’s been the most definitive public statement thus far aimed at quelling any concern on the matter.

Fourteen homes and other structures are coming down, some of them containing lead paint, so Prairie Street can be widened north of Main Street and to make way for an overpass crossing the Norfolk Southern Railroad line. The demolition has created dust clouds at times, though crews are spraying water to keep flying particles down. Some worry about the spread of lead via the dust.

Carolyn Hunt, for one, isn’t so sure there’s nothing to worry about. The Elkhart woman, who has a child who suffered lead poisoning, is organizing an informational campaign, backed by a handful of others, to get the word out about the dangers of lead and lead poisoning to neighbors living around the demolition location.

Even if the demolition doesn’t result in the spread of lead, she says it’s worth it to get the word out, especially in light of the many older homes in the Prairie Street area. Lead can cause nervous system and brain damage in children if ingested and it’s of concern in paint in homes built before 1978, prior to a change in U.S. law banning the substance from paints.

St. Vincent De Paul Catholic School sits east of the Prairie Street location, but school officials are satisfied sufficient precautions are being taken to contain any potential problems from demolition. Ahead of demolition, a school rep communicated at length with officials from the firm handling the work, R&R Excavating of Mishawaka.

School officials are “very comfortable” R&R is doing what it should, said Sean McBride, director of communications for Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. School at St. Vincent De Paul ended Friday.

BUILDINGS CONTAIN LEAD, ASBESTOS

In Moore’s statement, he said both lead paint and asbestos were found inside at least some of the buildings to be demolished, mainly old homes. The asbestos was removed prior to demolition.

State or federal rules don’t require special measures to deal with lead ahead of demolition, though, as with asbestos. But mindful of the potential for lead in dust, the city has called on the contractor handling demolition to redouble efforts to spray the demolition sites with water as buildings are torn down to keep dust down.

"While lead-based paint is a health concern in remodeling and renovations, the federal and state agencies apparently feel that the wetting procedure addresses the issue with lead paint in residential demolitions,“ Moore’s statement said. The debris from the demolition is being taken to landfills built to prevent migration of lead particles to groundwater.

Meanwhile, Hunt is organizing an effort to distribute information about lead testing and the dangers of lead in the Prairie Street area on June 21. She’s also approached Elkhart Community Schools officials on the issue, hoping to enlist their support in spreading the word about lead dangers.

According to the Elkhart County Health Department, around 270 children have been found with elevated lead levels in their blood since 1994. The county runs a program to help homeowners with lead abatement efforts, and more information is available at lead.elkhartcounty.com.

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




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