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Bloomington residents concerned about lead contamination after firefighter training exercise

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 07:30:33-05

BLOOMINGTON — A firefighter training exercise in Bloomington may have contaminated residential areas with lead, near a controlled burn. Now, city officials are investigating.

The Bloomington Fire Department burned the home off of South High Street Friday morning as part of a firefighter training exercise. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management confirmed that tests showed there was lead-based paint found in the home.

Paint chips and debris flew from the house as it was burning and as a result, neighbors say, it ended up in their front yards.

“I don’t feel safe in my yard at the moment,” Matt Murphy said. “Everything is covered with lead dust and lead paint chips.”

A contractor who has done house restoration work for decades, Murphy says he immediately knew something was wrong Friday when the controlled burn began, recognizing the smell coming from the fire as lead-based paint.

He says he drove to the paint store and bought a 3M lead test kit, which proved the paint chips were positive for lead.

“I didn’t know we could be smelling this, we could be breathing this in for days, maybe months later, I don’t know!” Ingrid Faber, who also lives nearby said.

Murphy recruited help from Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute executive director, who said nearly all the paint chips he tested at his lab were positive for lead, as well.

“Kind of short-term and long-term concerns,” Gabriel Filippelli, an Environmental Resilience Institute Executive Director with IU said. “They mostly revolve around children. Children are the most vulnerable to lead exposure and lead poisoning. The impacts are permanent if they are exposed to enough of it.”

“What concerns me most is I have a 10-year-old daughter that is very active and loves to play outside,” Christopher Sapp said. “She likes to dig in the dirt. She’s got a swing set and a treehouse out there. And I’m worried about the long-term effects of that and already took her to the pediatrician to have blood drawn to test her lead levels.”

“I’ve got poor health so I’m concerned about my health,” Faber said. “And I will get lead tested.”

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management says they received a fire training request from the Bloomington Fire Department and approved the controlled burn. IDEM officials say their “open burning rule” does not prohibit the burning of lead-based paint. However, they recommend that any fire training follow lead-safe work practices.

“It just blows my mind that that could be allowed,” Faber said. “Once again, we can’t burn leaves in our yard in the City of Bloomington but they can burn a 2 1/2 story big, old house with lead paint and not even bulk about it.”

“It’s not a good enough answer and it’s one thing that all of us hope comes from this event is that some changes to both local, county-wide, and maybe state law,” Murphy said.

“It does urge us to rethink our permissions for allowing something like this to happen," Filippelli added.

Bloomington city crews continue to survey the vicinity and collect debris from neighbors’ yards. The city also contracted two companies to help in remediation, which began clean-up on Tuesday.

“The problem is a lot of the fallout came in the form of dust and small particles. And that’s everywhere,” Murphy said.

Residents are still stunned this could even happen and are worried about the health and safety of their families.

“Bad idea to have a giant fire in the middle of a neighborhood. Period,” Murphy said.

Below is a press release sent by the City of Bloomington:

Bloomington Fire Department and City Continue to Address Impacts of Controlled Burn 

Bloomington, Ind. – The City of Bloomington and the Bloomington Fire Department (BFD) continue to investigate and address environmental impacts of the controlled burn of a structure at 1213 South High Street on Friday, November 5. The BFD has developed a map of affected properties [bloomington.in.gov] based on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)’s evaluation integrated with results of lead testing completed by the City’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Department (HAND).

Since the controlled burn, BFD crews led by Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore have been surveying the vicinity, collecting debris, and going door to door to survey residents, answer questions, and document any dissemination of debris daily. The City has contracted with two independent companies to help in remediation. Indianapolis-based Environmental Assurance Company, Inc. (EACI) began cleanup and remediation on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 9, addressing any areas adversely affected by the controlled burn. Bloomington-based VET Environmental Engineering, LLC is independently assessing the debris dispersal and any potential environmental impacts. Together, EACI and VET are evaluating and performing remediation work at private properties when appropriate, with permission from property owners.

EACI and VET are evaluating approximately 102 properties that were downwind of the fire on Friday, November 5, including seven properties in the immediate remediation area. Together, the companies have approximately 18 staff members on the job. Crews have prioritized cleanup of paint flakes. Results of dust testing are pending.

(The City contracted with EACI after an original agreement made on Saturday, November 6 with a different service provider encountered delays.)   [docs.google.com]

Residents in the vicinity may request that their property be evaluated (at no cost) by completing this form on the City’s website.  Residents of properties identified within the remediation areas will be contacted by remediation crews even if they do not fill out the form.  [docs.google.com]

The City has been in regular contact with the Monroe County Department of Health, IDEM, and other professional environmental specialists to evaluate the situation and develop and implement health and safety recommendations. These experts will guide the response and directly disseminate information about the situation, with support from the City. IDEM’s initial test results did indicate the presence of lead in paint flakes collected from several properties. Lead has not been detected in any surface wipe samples collected in the vicinity by HAND.

Residents may dispose of bagged debris and used cleaning materials in specially marked receptacles that were placed in the area Sunday, November 7. Local health officials recommend keeping children and pets away from paint debris. If there is a high concentration of paint chips and ash on a property, experts advise not to rake leaves or mow until remediation has been completed.

Prior to conducting the training exercise, the controlled burn had been reviewed and approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), which required that materials including furniture, carpeting, asphalt roofing shingles, roofing underlayment, and vinyl siding be removed from the structure prior to the exercise.

For more information, please see bloomington.in.gov/bfdburninfo [bloomington.in.gov] or contact Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore at 812-332-9763.