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Bloomington officials claim lead paint spread from fire exercise does not contain unacceptable levels

The fire department and Monroe County Health Department are partnering to offer blood tests for anyone concerned about elevated lead levels.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — City officials in Bloomington said the ash and other debris that settled over homes and properties during a fire department training exercise did not contain unacceptable levels of lead, according to state environmental standards.

The city's news release reads in part:

"Soil samples taken from properties where debris was most heavily impacted ... do not contain levels of lead exceeding Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) limits for residential or direct contact exposure and are in keeping with IDEM’s survey of background lead concentrations in Indiana soil."

The Bloomington Fire Department had conducted several days of live training in a house on High Street that culminated with a final burn of the structure Nov. 5.

"I walked down with many other neighbors to watch," said Matt Murphy, who lives down the street.

Credit: Dave Askins/B Squared

Ingrid Faber watched, too.

"Then, I saw huge flakes of paint, and I thought, 'Oh my God!' Immediately, I thought of lead because this house is an old house," Faber said.

Murphy, who is a contractor, ran to a paint store and grabbed a 3M lead testing kit and began testing some of the chips. He said they came back positive.

Credit: Dave Askins/B Squared

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the Bloomington Fire Department requested approval for the training burn through the Office of Air Quality on Sept. 7. It was approved on Sept. 17.

"Our department followed all of the requirements from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management inspector who evaluated the property," Moore told 13News in an email a week after the burn. "Lead paint was not one of the testing criteria, so it was not tested for lead prior to the approved live fire training evolution."

An IDEM spokesperson confirmed that "Indiana's Open Burning Law does not prohibit the burning of lead paint."

The city used VET Environmental Engineering (VET) to test the samples from more than 100 properties — and now say none exceeded 200 parts per million (ppm) for lead. IDEM requires action to be taken if lead levels exceed 400 ppm.

"We have consulted with public health officials and based on the current data and work completed, the homeowners should be able to proceed with fall lawn care as they normally would," said Monroe County Health Administrator Penny Caudill in a statement. "Wearing gloves, washing up when the work is done and perhaps wearing a mask should allow the work to be done with little, if any risk."

Credit: Dave Askins/B Squared

The fire department and Monroe County Health Department are partnering to offer blood tests for anyone concerned about elevated lead levels.

Firefighter blood samples were also tested. City officials said they'll share the results when available.

Any visible flakes remaining may be disposed of in normal household trash.

Once all of the test results have been received, the city plans on releasing a comprehensive written report to include the test results for review.

Information about lead-based paint can be found here. The Open Burning Rule (326 IAC 4-1) does not prohibit the burning of lead-based paint. However, IDEM recommends that any fire training follow lead-safe work practices.

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