By Associated Press - Sunday, February 7, 2021

ATLANTA (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking residents in parts of some west Atlanta neighborhoods for permission to test their soil for lead.

The agency has been sampling yards and removing soil in parts of the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods west of downtown since 2018 after an Emory University graduate student found dangerously high levels of lead in the area.

Since then, the agency has tested close to 500 yards for lead, but it would like to sample more.

“We’ve only received access for about 50 percent of the properties in our study area,” the EPA’s Leigh Lattimore said at a virtual community meeting, according to WABE-FM. “We’re really focused on getting the remaining 50 percent and sampling those properties.”

Of the properties the EPA has tested, 205 had high enough lead levels to qualify for the agency to pay to remove and replace the soil. That work has been finished on 59 properties; two are getting worked on now. The EPA began excavating yards a year ago.

The coronavirus has made outreach to residents and getting signed permission to sample yards harder, said Abena Moore, community involvement coordinator with the EPA.

“We are restricted from going door-to-door right now,” she said. “In addition, a high number of property owners live out of the state or the country. And lastly, there are properties that have been abandoned, and we haven’t been able to find the property owner.”

EPA on-scene coordinator Chuck Berry said the agency has spent about $8 million of $18 million in authorized funding for the cleanup, but it expects to seek more money.

Lead is especially dangerous for children; it can affect their brains and nervous systems.

The lead in English Avenue and Vine City likely came from waste from Atlanta foundries that was used as fill, the EPA reports.

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