By: Sharon Franklin, Chief of Operations

The danger arrived for Kim and Richard Rankin and their family in 2004, in the form of a hidden pile of soil, at their home in Kenton, Missouri, as reported by P.J. Randhawa and Erin Richey for KSDK-TV. https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/investigations/lead-contaminated-backyard-nightmare-jefferson-county/63-2e63f898-20a5-4aff-90b9-3477e8e658e2.   The Rankins learned years later that the soil was contaminated with lead, which is presently across most of Southwest Missouri.  In 2008, it became a toxic burden, and that was also the year they found out that their yard was a Superfund site.  Richard Rankin learned that “The lead levels weren’t high enough to be a danger to us and the older children in the home; “but we adopted a son in 2013, when he was 8 months old.  So, he called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and was told they would immediately be put at the top of the list for remediation as a cleanup project.

Sadly, it’s seven years later, and the Rankins are still on the top of that list, and their son Nathan has complex medical needs and the Superfund site is still there.  Kim and Richard Rankin say “Our little guy that we adopted has never really explored his full yard”; and “He never will get to play in the tree house”. “In 2008, the EPA sent us a letter stating that they had found our name on the list from a particular provider of soil and that it was very likely that we’d had contaminated soil brought into this site”.

According to the EPA, heavy metals in mine waste from operations as far back as the 1700s have made their way into the soil and water all over Jefferson County. https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0705443   The resulting contamination brought heavy metals like lead, arsenic and chromium to the doorsteps of Jefferson County homeowners.  Julie Weber, Director of the Missouri Poison Center, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital says “It’s these repetitive exposures, especially in younger children that can lead to affect their development,”  The contamination can have lasting effects, she added, “on the blood system, how they develop and can affect their IQ.”

Kim Rankin says “They just wanted to cap the land and put 12 inches of dirt on top of it, instead of removing it,” “Once they thought they had the job done, it turned out that it failed.”

“It really has felt like us as a private citizen against these bigger power government and corporations, that you just can’t motivate much change. “They just had total disregard to the consequences that they had left us with for so long,” And it has just become a tremendous amount of work for us to advocate.  Hours spent writing e-mails, hours in meetings.  It’s kind of like they came in with the idea that they were helping. And it has been anything but helpful.”

Currently, on the EPA Website, the Southwest Jefferson County Mining Site is categorized as “Current Human Exposure Not Under Control.” https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.Healthenv&id=0705443  The agency provides bottled water to 55 homes and expects that there are thousands more properties to test and at least 600 more properties to remediate. Health officials recommend that Jefferson County residents, especially children, get their blood lead levels checked at least once a year.

Photo credit: Rankins