ATLANTA — A college student's research project tipped the Environmental Protection Agency off to an Atlanta neighborhood contaminated with lead.
The agency confirmed to Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant it is now testing to see if even more properties in a historic neighborhood have unsafe levels of lead in the soil.
It's well-known that long-term exposure to high levels of lead can be dangerous, especially for kids.
"It's hard, especially when you don't know what's going on, and lead is very dangerous," said Veronica Harris, who lives in the neighborhood.
An EPA spokesperson told Diamant that an Emory University doctoral student working on a project discovered elevated lead levels in soil samples last fall and notified the EPA.
Since then, Channel 2 Action News has confirmed the EPA has tested about two dozen properties on a two-block stretch of Elm Street
Fifteen samples came back too high, including one 700% higher than what the EPA considers safe.
The agency wouldn't say from which property that sample came. That didn't sit well with neighbor Bonita Johnson, who spoke to Diamant while out for a walk with her kids.
"My baby has special needs. My baby ain't going to be around all that," Johnson said.
Meantime, the EPA now wants to expand its sampling to about 360 properties in a six-block area, going door to door to get homeowners' permission.
Robert Mullins told Diamant the EPA recently showed up at his house.
"I was already out here with my kids, and they were just playing in the yard, and he was just telling me about how dangerous it could be if the ground is contaminated, not letting them play in the dirt and stuff like that," Mullins said.
The EPA believes the lead came from fill material used by the neighborhood's original developers to level out some of the lots more than a century ago.
But only more testing can confirm which lots have lead and which don't.
We know Atlanta Public Schools conducted soil tests at two nearby schools. Lead levels at both came back below EPA limits.
Channel 2 Action News is still waiting to hear back from the city about whether it ran any tests at nearby Rodney Cook Park.
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