JOPLIN, Mo. — The tornado that devastated this city in May 2011, blasting apart buildings and killing 158 people, left a toxic mess. Environmental agents spent months testing the air for asbestos and collecting 500 tons of household chemicals, appliances and electronics, much of which they recycled.
Now Joplin is focused on a more insidious environmental concern - lead and cadmium contamination unearthed by the storm.
The Environmental Protection Agency last year gave the city $500,000 to clean property affected by the tornado. On Thursday, the EPA announced it would spend $2.4 million more, especially in places where children could be exposed to heavy metals.
High lead and cadmium levels have been associated with learning difficulties for children. Exposure in adults is not shown to be as detrimental.
Joplin is familiar ground for the EPA, said regional administrator Karl Brooks. The agency has spent 20 years cleaning up metal contamination from mines in the area.
Brooks said the EPA addressed Joplin's pressing needs after the storm - including asbestos and hazardous chemicals.
“What none of us could immediately see was how much the storm and all of the recovery work had disturbed thousands of residential yards, playgrounds and other properties, exposing the public to toxic lead and cadmium,” he said.
The twister tore through an area that was once a mining town. It also destroyed or damaged homes where mining residue was likely left in foundations and driveways. That residue was deposited throughout the tornado zone.
Brooks said EPA grant will assist property owners who cannot rebuild until their soil is cleaned. The $2.4 million is projected to pay for the cleanup of 250 properties. Part of the money will clean lead-tainted soil from playgrounds.
The money will help people like Dan Farren, who was required to test his yard for lead and cadmium before rebuilding his home. Those tests showed high levels of metal, and Farren was on the hook to replace the soil.
“Then I found out Joplin had gotten a grant," he said.