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EPA CLEANUPS IN SANDY GET CHEERS, JEERS

SHARE EPA CLEANUPS IN SANDY GET CHEERS, JEERS

In the 25 years or so that Eugene and Linda Powell have lived here, neither they nor their three children have suffered from lead poisoning.

Which is why the Powells believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being silly in ripping up their yard to rid it of lead-contaminated soil."I think it's kind of asinine," said Linda Powell.

The Powells' yard, at 8669 S. 60 East, is one of 34 targeted for cleanup by the EPA, which has found elevated levels of lead and arsenic in two Sandy neighborhoods.

Armed with backhoes, chain saws, shovels, axes and other sundry equipment, EPA contractors on Wednesday began tearing up yards contaminated by 19th century ore-processing activities in the area.

"Pretty much everybody wants to get it over with," said Diane Simmons, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which is assisting the EPA.

Residents in the area of 8690 South and 300 East and in the area of 9000 South and 100 East were notified by the EPA a few years ago that soils in their yards contained high concentrations of lead, which, if ingested, can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.

While no cases of illness have been linked to the contaminated soils, environmental regulators believe the high levels of lead and arsenic pose a significant health risk, particularly to children.

Still, the cleanup is getting mixed reviews among residents affected, said Simmons.

"Some people are really happy. They perceive the risk," Simmons said. "Other people have a fundamental attachment to their yards and hate to see them go."

Powell said she watched in disgust as crews ripped out a poplar tree, some quaking aspens, an oak, two willows and a lilac bush.

Once the contaminated landscaping is removed, however, crews will bring in new topsoil, sod, shrubs and trees. "We're trying to do the best we can to give (people) back the yards they had - only cleaner," Simmons said.

The revegetation effort is of little consolation to Powell, who is 54 years old. "We'll be dead before we see (the new trees and bushes) grow big."

In addition to the loss of familiar landscaping, Powell said the cleanup is combining with the hot weather to cause no small degree of discomfort.

Because of the dust, "we have to shut our windows and we can't turn on the air conditioning," she said. "It's the pits."

Some residents who don't have small children question the necessity of the cleanup. Simmons noted, however, that, if not cleaned up, the lead will haunt future owners who may have kids.

Seventeen yards in the northern end of the project area were targeted first. At a cost of $1.5 million, the cleanup of those yards is expected to last until August. The other 17 homes in the lower end will be cleaned up in August and September, at a somewhat lower cost, Simmons said.

The contaminated soils are being disposed of in the Salt Lake Valley Landfill. Last week, the cleanup was temporarily halted while county officials debated whether the landfill could legally accept the waste and whether the county should compete with a private landfill that lost the bid for the waste.

The Salt Lake County Commission on Monday approved the landfill as a repository for the contaminated soils, which are not technically classified as hazardous waste.