OMAHA, Neb. — Officials say they’ve cleaned up the majority of eastern Omaha homes found to have high lead concentrations.

Almost 300 affected properties were removed from a list of contaminated locations last year, the Omaha World-Herald reported . Properties must be reviewed by state and federal agencies before they can be removed. There also is a window for public comment on the issue.

Testing originally revealed more than 14,000 homes with high lead levels. There are now fewer than 1,000 properties that need to be remediated. Cleanup requires removing about a foot of dirt, which is then replaced and covered with sod.

“Cleanup is still going on, but a lot (of properties) are done,” said Bill Lukash, provisional assistant director for the city’s Planning Department.

Commercial properties haven’t been tested so the number of properties that need to be cleaned up may increase, Lukash said.

The Environmental Protection Agency assigned the city Superfund status largely due to contamination from a lead-refining plant that operated near the riverfront until 1997.

The city took over cleanup duties from the Environmental Protection Agency through a cooperative agreement in 2015. The city has spent about $3.2 million in funds from the EPA on staff, soil testing and cleanup. The money also has funded outreach and education by nonprofit Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, which works to protect children.

“I do think it’s important that we keep up with what we’re doing, because obviously it is a public health priority,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “It’s about the safety of our children and families and it’s about safe and healthy housing.”

Lead poisoning is especially harmful to children younger than 6. While children with lead poisoning typically don’t appear ill, it can cause behavioral issues and learning disabilities.

The percentage of eastern Omaha children with high blood-lead levels was less than 2 percent in 2015, a sharp decrease from nearly 33 percent in 1998, according to the EPA.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com