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Chattanoogans concerned proposed EPA cuts will affect lead contamination cleanup efforts

Concerned citizens met at Jefferson Heights Park Thursday to protest President Trump's proposed budget cuts to the EPA.

Congress has yet to approve President Trump's proposed 2018 budget, instead passing short-term fixes to keep things up and running.

The President's original proposal includes a 30% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Chattanooga activists have concerns about how that could impact the cleanup of a lead-contaminated site if it ever is passed.

Last week, the EPA proposed adding the Southside neighborhood to a list of the country's most hazardous sites.

Only sites added to that list are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term cleanup.

"Lead is a highly toxic substance and it can especially affect children with their developing neurological systems," said Sadie McElrath, a family nurse practitioner at LifeSpring Pediatrics.

As a mom and medical professional, Sadie worries about the health of her own kids and children all across Chattanooga.

"Everyone deserves to be able to have a child play in the yard or grow a vegetable garden without being worried the soil in their very own yard is going to poison them," said McElrath.

That's why she and other concerned Chattanooga citizens say as the federal budget continues to be debated, EPA funding is extremely important to people who live in this community.

"The EPA's current budget only allows us to clean up the places where children are living," said McElrath. "If it keeps getting cut, what are we going to keep cutting out?"

Rodney Simpson says he was informed by the EPA that his property is contaminated with lead.

During the day, he takes care of his grandson, but he says the EPA told him that since no kids live there full-time, cleaning-up his property isn't a priority.

"But I was concerned because I have COPD and I sometimes grow a garden in my back yard," said Simpson. "As of yet, they haven't came back and did nothing to it."

Like the activists, he just wants to see his yard cleaned up so he can know his family is safe.

The lead contamination came from the waste of factories that used to be in operation in that area.

We reached out to the EPA to ask if budget cuts would affect their ability to clean things up.

A spokesperson sent us the following statement:

EPA’s FY 2018 budget maintains core environmental protections and regulatory obligations while focusing on the Agency’s core statutory work. As laid out in the Agency’s draft FY 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, the Administrator’s goals are designed to transform the way the Agency does business and more efficiently and effectively deliver human health and environmental results.
Administrator Pruitt has set the expectation that there will be a renewed focus on accelerating work and progress at all Superfund sites across the country.
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