After lead paint fallout, Bloomington fire chief sets policy on controlled burning of a house: “We will not be doing that in the future.”

Another controlled burning of an “acquired structure” like the house at 1213 High Street on Bloomington’s east side will not take place while Jason Moore is the city’s fire chief.

In this B Square file photo from July of 2021, fire chief Jason Moore addresses the new class of firefighter recruits.

Burning the High Street house to the ground on Friday Nov. 5—after three previous days of live fire training inside the house—caused a plume of lead-based paint chips and ash to cover a portion of the neighborhood to the west.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s board of public safety, Moore described the balance of benefits from the training compared to the risk. “We did receive some very valuable training out of this, but it’s not worth the risk,” Moore said.

The fire chief continued, “So I can assure everyone that as the chief of the department, we will not be doing that in the future.”

Immediately after the conflagration caused the lead-contaminated plume to settle on his neighborhood, councilmember Dave Rollo started mulling city legislation against such training fires.

On Tuesday, Moore addressed those city councilmembers, including Rollo, who were tuned in for the board of public safety meeting, which was held as a Zoom video-conference. “With or without that legislation, I can assure you that we do not intend to conduct another controlled burning in an acquired structure again,” Moore said.

The board’s Tuesday meeting was also a chance for Moore to give some updates on the extent of the hazard, progress on the clean up, the cost of the work, and some specific direction to residents.

Some of the information provided by Moore at Tuesday’s board meeting was included in a Monday news release or on a page on the city’s website dedicated to the lead ash fallout from the Nov. 5 controlled burn on High Street.

The board’s Tuesday meeting was also an occasion for members of the public to pose questions, even if the board did not follow a meeting format that allowed for immediate answers.

During public comment time, former city clerk Regina Moore asked about future non-training fires that might break out in older houses in Bloomington, which likely have surfaces coated with lead-based paint. “I’m concerned about what happens in an older neighborhood when a structure is burning,” Regina Moore said. “What can people expect? Or what should we be aware of in those instances?” Regina Moore asked.

About the level of the lead hazard arising from the ashfall, fire chief Jason Moore reported at Tuesday’s board of safety meeting he’d talked to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). “IDEM said that this is not like a sustained release—those are where they start running into problems where you have a factory that’s releasing even low-level contents of lead over a 20-year period or a 10-year period,” Moore said.

He continued, “This is what they call an incidental release. This is not an ongoing threat. This is not a continual issue.”

Still, Moore said, there might always be some concern. He’s working with the county health department to get blood lead testing kits. “We do anticipate offering the fingerstick blood tests for not only our firefighters, but any resident in the affected area or around that, who would like to have that baseline test done.”

Once firefighters are trained up on the use of the kits, they will be happy to come out on site and administer fingerstick lead tests at no cost, Moore said.

According to Monday’s news release, two companies have been contracted by the city of Bloomington to do remediation work in the neighborhood where paint flakes and ash were visible after the controlled burn: Environmental Assurance Company, Inc. (EACI) and VET Environmental Engineering, LLC (VET).

That remediation work includes removing debris from surfaces that people and pets frequently contact, including sidewalks, driveways, hand railings, mailboxes, playsets, patios, and decks. Cleanup crews are also doing general yard cleanup, focusing on food-producing gardens and play areas.

On Tuesday, Moore reported that through the end of the day, the two contractors had remediated 59 properties, starting from the areas closest to the burn site. As the contractors work their way through the map of the ashfall, they’re checking the properties bordering the affected areas to check for issues that need to be remediated, Moore said.

Right now the bill for the work is estimated to be around $118,000, Moore said. That amount could increase, if cleanup crews discover additional issues, Moore said.

Monday’s news release reported that air samples taken from devices worn by cleanup crews for the duration of their shifts, starting Nov. 9—before the rain fell—came back negative for lead. According to Moore, that meant even crews who were heavily engaged in cleanup of the worst affected areas were not causing lead-laden dust to be kicked up.

Samples collected from surfaces also came back as not having lead at detectable levels, according to Monday’s news release.

That left the lead paint chips as still a source of concern. At Tuesday’s board of public safety meeting, Moore said he wanted to put the risk of exposure in perspective. “If you go fishing, you touch a lead weight, that’s 100 percent lead. The paint chips that we’re looking at are somewhere between the realm of 10 to 20 percent lead.”

To deal with the hazard, the idea is to keep people from ingesting it, and to wash your hands afterwards, Moore said.

The city’s fall leaf collection program has begun.  Monday’s news release encourages residents to go ahead and rake their leaves to the curb to be collected by the city, even if they live in potentially lead-contaminated areas.

The piles of leaves will be tested for presence of lead before they’re vacuumed up into the city’s trucks. If lead is detected the leaves they’ll be dumped at an approved disposal site, not composted as usual.

In the ash fallout areas, households that are participating in the 1,000 Households Who Mulch initiative are supposed to rake their leaves to the curb for collection, instead of continuing to mulch their leaves as a part of the pilot program.

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