My office has organized a meeting of City staff members from a number of departments (Housing Inspections, Environmental Services and the Attorney's office) and Paula Maccabee from the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota to talk about arsenic.
Here's the scoop: decades ago, a pesticide company called CMC Heartland contaminated a large area of south Minneapolis with wind-blown arsenic. From Environmental Protection Agency wind dispersion models, the affected neighborhoods include Midtown Phillips, East Phillips, Ventura Village, Powderhorn Park, Corcoran, Longfellow, Seward and Cedar Riverside.
Since 2004, the EPA has been testing soil at residential properties within what they term the "South Minneapolis Neighborhood Soil Contamination Site." As of mid-June of this year, the EPA has tested about 3,100 properties.
The EPA will clean up yards with soil contamination above 95 parts per million (ppm), the level they've judged to be "acute," contingent on the landowner's permission. However, the EPA does not at this time have funding or authority to clean up any yard found to have a level of contamination below 95 ppm.
From what I have heard, there is not consensus on a "safe" level of arsenic in soil. It seems clear to me that there is significant risk from chronic exposure to levels above 10 ppm, such as elevated risk of cancer, especially for children. State officials have repeatedly asked for all yards over 30 ppm to be cleaned up by the EPA, but it looks like it will be some time before this cleanup is completed.
The EPA is prohibited from giving test results (in this case on the arsenic level in the soil) to anyone but the property owner. Many of the affected neighborhoods are very high in rental housing. These facts combine to create a dangerous situation: parents with young children renting apartments where the soil poses serious chronic health risks, who don't know of the contamination.
Here's where the City comes in. We're looking into passing an ordinance requring landlords to inform tenants of soil contamination in the range that has been determined to pose a chronic risk. Additionally, we're looking into requiring property owners to cooperate with free EPA remediation programs when available. Lastly, we could try to include EPA test data in the Truth-in-Housing requirements, to ensure that homebuyers will be informed of known arsenic contamination.
This is a preliminary meeting to hash out these issues. Some may well not be within the City's jurisdiction or have some other sort of obstacle, but I'm eager to do what we can to help protect the health of residents until the contamination has been completely cleaned up.