Kevin Scherbak is getting a new backyard. That's new dirt, new sod and two weeks of watering as part of a federal remediation project to clean up the contaminants left by an old smelting plant north of Memorial Stadium.
Scherbak’s home, which is owned by his father, Michael, is one of about 15 in the city's North Bottoms getting new topsoil this spring as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's $292,500 Northwestern Metal remediation project.
The EPA is taking off the topsoil from residential properties where the lead measured above 400 parts per million, with the property owner’s permission for both testing and soil removal.
The state Department of Environmental Quality began testing in the North Bottoms area after USA Today wrote about old smelting plants across the country that were sites of potential pollution but never had been investigated. The list of sites included Northwestern Metal Co., which operated near Memorial Stadium from 1918 to 1961.
Smelter plants had the potential to spew lead dust through smoke and onto nearby soil and buildings. The lead in smoke binds to dirt and can remain in the soil for hundreds of years.
Environmental experts say that lead contamination can create health risks for pregnant women and for young children who might put dust-covered toys or hands in their mouth, with complications ranging from behavioral health problems to hearing loss.
To date, 64 yards have been sampled, either by the state or the EPA, and 15 have been identified as candidates for remediation, said Ben Washburn, spokesman for EPA Region 7.
The EPA currently has agreements with 10 property owners in the North Bottoms neighborhood to remove dirt from yards and is negotiating agreements for five more properties, according to Washburn.
The EPA expects the remediation work to be finished by the end of June, according to information from the federal agency.
Kevin Scherbak, who lives in a home near Memorial Stadium, is happy to have clean soil in a yard where his 10-year-old son plays. “I’m glad they are finally doing it,” he said of the remediation work being handled by Environmental Restoration and subcontractors.
Remediation generally involves excavating 1 to 2 feet of soil, bringing in clean dirt that has been tested and covering the area with sod or hydro-seeding the area, EPA staff have said.
Kevin Scherbak said contractors dug out 2½ to 3 feet of dirt in his backyard, but none from the front yard, where there was no high lead content.
EPA staff first met with residents in Lincoln’s North Bottoms, north of Memorial Stadium and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, five years ago about the potentially high levels of lead in their soil.
Initial sampling by the state showed that about half the 20 yards originally sampled had lead in the soil above 400 parts per million, the level that triggers further tests and the level the federal government says could be dangerous for small children if they put the soil in their mouths.
Northwestern Metal sold the property to the University of Nebraska and moved its operations to 27th and Superior streets in the early 1960s. The company discontinued smelting operations in 1972 because the equipment required to reduce pollution would cost too much, according to newspaper articles.
The DEQ staff and the EPA project focused on residential areas, not the stadium nor nearby practice fields, because that’s where agency staff said there may be health risks to young children and pregnant women.
The Northwestern Metal smelter was located at 920 U and 900 T streets, just to the west of the stadium. Because the former smelter is covered by concrete and asphalt of the parking lot, and this area is not residential, surface exposure is not expected to be of significant concern, said Washburn in an email about the project.
The EPA is focused on sampling and addressing residential lead exposure in the nearby yards, he said.
The current steel works operation adjacent to the North Bottoms neighborhood is Capital Steel, a steel fabrication company unrelated to the smelting/scrap operations of Northwest Metal, Washburn said.
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the United States will need to "provide security assurances" to North Korea's Kim Jong Un if the adversaries are to reach a nuclear deal, describing the stakes of President Donald Trump's upcoming summit with Kim.
Pompeo met with Kim last week in North Korea, helping set the stage for Trump's historic summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12.
Trump's goal is for North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons in a permanent and verifiable way. In return, the U.S. is willing to help the impoverished nation strengthen its economy.
Pompeo was asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether the U.S. was in effect telling Kim he could stay in power if he met the U.S. demands. Pompeo said: "We will have to provide security assurances, to be sure."
The top U.S. diplomat did not elaborate, but his comment could refer to the type of assurances North Korea has sought in the past. A statement issued during international negotiations with North Korea in 2005 over its nuclear weapons development said the "United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade (North Korea) with nuclear or conventional weapons."
The North has said it needs nuclear weapons to counter what it believes is a U.S. effort to strangle its economy and overthrow the Kim government.
"Make no mistake about it, America's interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into L.A. or Denver or to the very place we're sitting here this morning," Pompeo said from Washington. "That's our objective, that's the end state the president has laid out and that's the mission that he sent me on this past week, to put us on the trajectory to go achieve that."
Pressed in a separate interview on whether the U.S. would seek regime change, Pompeo said "only time will tell how these negotiations will proceed."
"The president uses language that says 'we'll see,'" Pompeo told CBS's "Face the Nation." ''The American leadership under President Trump has its eyes wide open."
North Korea said Saturday that all of the tunnels at the country's northeastern nuclear test site will be destroyed by explosion in less than two weeks, ahead of Kim's summit with Trump. Observation and research facilities and ground-based guard units will also be removed, the North said. Pompeo praised it as "one step along the way."
John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, described the types of steps that North Korea would need to take as part of a denuclearization process, including the potential involvement of a processing center in Tennessee.
"The implementation of the decision means getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oak Ridge, Tennessee," Bolton said in an interview with ABC's "This Week." ''It means getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities," adding the process would also need to address North Korea's ballistic missiles.
"I don't think anybody believes you're going to sign the complete ending of the nuclear program in one day. But we are also very much interested in operationalizing the commitment as quickly as possible," Bolton said.
Bolton said in an interview with CNN's "State of the Union" that North Korea should not "look for economic aid from us. I think what the prospect for North Korea is to become a normal nation, to behave and interact with the rest of the world the way South Korea does."
"The prospect for North Korea is unbelievably strong if they'll commit to denuclearization. That's what the president is going to say," he said.
Pompeo said private-sector Americans could help rebuild North Korea's energy grid and develop the country's infrastructure. He described the possibility of American agriculture being used to "support North Korea so they can eat meat and have healthy lives."
South Korea has said Kim has shown an interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits. But it remains unclear if Kim would ever fully relinquish the weapons he probably views as his only guarantee of survival.
North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition. The North has vowed to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.
The White House has said withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from South Korea is "not on the table."