Residents in the Mangan Park neighborhood of Sacramento express concerns after the city determined that some yards had high enough levels of lead to pose health risks over a long period of time, particularly to children. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee
Residents in the Mangan Park neighborhood of Sacramento express concerns after the city determined that some yards had high enough levels of lead to pose health risks over a long period of time, particularly to children. Ryan Lillis The Sacramento Bee

Editorials

City and county play blame game. Families live with lead contamination.

By the Editorial Board

December 05, 2017 03:01 PM

UPDATED December 06, 2017 09:31 AM

This is exactly why people don’t trust local government: The city of Sacramento and Sacramento County are fighting over who is to blame for the lead contaminating lawns in Mangan Park near a city-owned gun range. And while the bureaucratic battle plays out, 15 families are left waiting.

To do right by them, city and county officials need to figure out how to clean up the lead first and determine who pays later.

As The Bee’s Ryan Lillis reported Sunday, the city is refusing to handle the cleanup, claiming that the lead actually comes from fuel used by small-engine planes landing at nearby Sacramento Executive Airport – not from the now-closed gun range.

City Hall has spent at least $17,000 on a study seeking to show the link between aviation fuel and the lead contamination, journalist Joe Rubin reported in a Viewpoints article last month. In an Oct. 30 letter to the county, city Parks Director Christopher Conlin wrote that the city “cannot agree to undertake remediation when it is not the party responsible for the contamination.”

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In response, the Sacramento County Environmental Management Department, which ordered the city last year to test the lawns and come up with a cleanup plan, says the city doesn’t have the authority to declare itself not responsible. The county is threatening enforcement action against the city and says the city has not provided scientific proof for its claim that the airplanes are the real source of the lead.

The city says it plans to submit that data by a Dec. 15 deadline, and “hopes for an amicable resolution of this matter.”

That would be ideal, but the city and county even disagree how much cleanup is necessary and its cost. While the city estimates it would cost about $350,000 to remove enough tainted soil so that average lead levels are no longer hazardous, the county’s proposal to take more soil would cost between $700,000 and $1 million.

The county has its own interests at stake, since it operates the airport under an agreement with the city. Still, the city’s track record in this case is not encouraging. Residents, who have been left in the dark too often about what was happening, have ample reason to be skeptical.

As The Bee uncovered last year, the city has long known about hazardous levels of lead inside and outside the gun range. City Hall’s response was shamefully slow.

Despite tests as far back as 2006 that showed the lead dust inside, officials didn’t close the range until December 2014. And despite 2014 test results showing lead on the building’s roof, the city didn’t order tests of nearby soil until April 2016.

The city already has spent about $533,000 to clean up and seal the gun range and the surrounding area. To protect city taxpayers, officials only want to pay for cleaning up contamination for which the city is responsible.

But that shouldn’t come at the cost of the health and peace of mind of families caught in the middle. This bureaucratic back-and-forth needs to end. The cleanup needs to get done.

Editor’s note: This editorial was corrected to note that Sacramento County operates, but does not own, Sacramento Executive Airport.