People recommend pesticide treatments for head lice as though it is the only poison exposure in a child's life.

April 28, 2006

If you think toxic waste couldn't possibly affect you, consider these numbers:

A Team 4 investigation focused on two of the most hazardous sites. And Team 4 found plenty of new homeowners who don't know much, if anything, about what's buried right next door.

About eight years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered a cleanup at the Lindane Superfund site in Harrison Township after discovering the soil and groundwater were contaminated with pesticides.

Now, there is not a single sign marking the property as contaminated.

On the surface, one sees a community park with ball fields and tennis courts. Children and their parents play there. But underneath, the toxic chemicals remain, capped with a layer of clay.

Homeowner Ethel Dawson has lived in Harrison Township for 30 years. Her backyard is just a few feet from the section of the Lindane Dump that had the highest toxic test results 10 years ago.

"You don't know if what they did really covered that all up or if it's going to seep back up into the ground," Dawson said.

It's not seeping up. According to ongoing groundwater testing, it's seeping downhill to monitoring wells that are still picking up detectable levels of toxins.

Long-time residents know about that, but what about the newcomers?

"I work in the area, so I knew some stuff before I bought here," said homeowner Jennifer Frick.

When asked if she knew a lot, Frick said, "No, not as much as I know now I know it's one of the biggest toxic waste dumps in the area."

Frick bought her house in 2002. She said no one involved in the real estate transaction told her about the Lindane dump right outside her back door.

Her neighbor, who bought a house last year, said the same thing.

"All I know is what the neighbors have told us and what all they knew," Nichole Smith said

Smith said no one involved in the transaction disclosed anything to her.

That's because in Pennsylvania, property sellers are not required to disclose offsite contamination to a buyer. They don't have to say a word -- not even if thousands of tons of toxic chemicals are buried right next door.

"It doesn't stop at the property line," said Dr. Conrad Volz of the University of Pittsburgh.

Volz is a doctor of Public Health.

"I think it's very important that people be informed about what's in the area around where they live," Volz said.

Ask any longtime resident of Canonsburg what's buried under a six-acre pentagonal dome next to Chartiers Creek, and they'll probably know the answer -- radioactive uranium.

But Bill Jacks didn't know what it was two years ago when he bought a house near the site. Not even his appraisal included a mention.

"It didn't mention it at all. Mentioned the power lines, but it didn't mention the hill It mentions when you have overhead power lines near your property, but it doesn't when you have a radioactive mound near your property," Jacks said.

In 1921, Standard Chemical Company was producing half the world's radium in Canonsburg. That year, French physicist Marie Curie took a tour of the facility.

Years later, uranium ore processed there was used in the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb.

"We played in the tailings up here, what they called red sand. After they dumped everything out, we played in that. Barefoot and we rooted around in the chemical dump that they had," said homeowner Tony Delost.

Four thousand tons of radioactive tailings were entombed there in the early 1980's, buried inside a huge clay repository.

Today, monitor well readings indicate that the contamination is so far contained. Delost said new homeowners don't appear to have a clue about this site.

"People who don't live here and have never lived here and they're looking at properties," questioned Parsons.

"They don't know it. They don't know the history of it," Delost said.

Pennsylvania's top environmental official says the state's 10-year-old real estate disclosure law does protect homebuyers.

"When there is contamination, the realtor must disclose it," said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary Kathleen McGinty.

"But that disclosure is only about a defect on the property itself. It says nothing about what's right behind it, what's right next door," Parsons said.

"In which case, the potential home buyer would be able to access DEP records," McGinty said.

But most DEP records are not on the Internet, making it difficult for homebuyers to get the information. Volz said the government needs to find a better way to make sure residents know what they are buying next to -- now and generations from now.

"It's really very, very important to take a very long-term view of the hazard. As long as the hazard could be there, which could be in some cases thousands of years," Volz said.

This report by Team 4 investigator Jim Parsons first aired on Channel 4 Action News at 5 p.m. on April 27, 2006.