EPA steps up lead cleanup in Chattanooga neighborhoods

Eight neighborhoods are targeted

Staff photo by Mike Pare / Tom Lewallen, right, of Greenwood Avenue in Highland Park, stands in front of his Chattanooga house on Wednesday. Lewallen told Jasmin Jefferies, front, of EPA, and other officials about the clean-up of lead from his yard.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up costly efforts to clean up lead-contaminated soil in some of Chattanooga's oldest neighborhoods after the pandemic caused a slowdown.

EPA officials this week toured a handful of sites to see progress in the initiative to sample more than 5,400 yards in eight neighborhoods ranging from Alton Park to the Southside to Highland Park.

Jasmin Jefferies, EPA remedial project manager, said in an interview that door-to-door contacts have risen as the coronavirus has ebbed and as the federal agency tries to alert residents in the neighborhoods to the lead problem.

"It slowed down with COVID," she said. "We're back in the field. We're talking with residents."

The soil in the neighborhoods was contaminated over the past century from residue generated at more than 60 iron, brass and bronze foundries that operated in Chattanooga for nearly a century until the 1980s, officials have said.