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The Iowa Department of Public Health, Toxic Substances Evaluation Program (TSEP), hasprepared this health consultation in response to a telephone call from a reporter with the DesMoines Register newspaper and two articles in that paper.1 Concerns were raised regarding highlead levels in soil on the Former Diller Battery Site (FDB) in Des Moines, Iowa. At that time, theKiwanis Club had been working with the City of Des Moines Community DevelopmentDepartment to establish an environmental training center at the site aimed largely at children(Diagram 1). High lead levels in soil on the site have placed this project on hold.

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the current property owners arein the process of negotiating future site land use and corresponding cleanup actions. Such actionswould be related to redevelopment plans for the area through EPA's Brownfields EconomicRedevelopment Initiative. The purpose of this document is to review site environmental data andto determine if site-related exposures may be occurring at levels of health concern.


The FDB site is located at 701 Corning Avenue in Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. The 1.5 acre(65,340 square feet) site is bordered on the west by Riverview Park Lake, on the south byCorning Avenue, on the east by an alley, and on the north by three residential properties (Figure1). Properties to the east and south of the site are commercial. The nearest residential propertyadjoins the site to the north, with the residence itself located approximately 60 feet from the site.

The site is adjacent to Riverview Park Lake. Rain water can flow overland toward the lakeespecially from the southwest corner of the site. All drinking water in the area is supplied by theCity of Des Moines. The municipal wells are upgradient and located approximately 3.5 milessouthwest of the site.

Based on 1990 census data, approximately 3,185 people live within a half-mile and 959 within aquarter-mile of the site. This urban population is primarily Caucasian (Diagram 2). Children are asensitive sub-population when evaluating health risks to lead. There are 394 children age 6 yearsand younger within a half-mile radius and 113 within a quarter-mile radius of the site.

The site was operated as a lead battery factory by Diller Battery from 1946 to 1952. In 1953, thefacility was operated jointly by Diller Battery and Span-O-Life Battery, and by Span-O-LifeBattery only in 1954. From 1955 to 1964 the Hunter Manufacturing Company manufacturedbeds at the site. The site has been vacant since 1965. The only structure currently on the site is a8 by 14 foot metal storage building. A concrete pad covering approximately 19,000 square feet(29 % of the site) is located in the southeast portion of the property. The condition of the padvaries. The shed and concrete pad locations are shown on Figure 2. The site is owned by fourdifferent property owners: the City of Des Moines, Polk County, Union Pacific Railroad andBarbara Redshaw of Des Moines. The Site Ownership Map identifies the current propertyowners and how the property is divided (Figure 3).

On June 21, 1995, a city zoning inspector observed lead imbedded in the concrete pad on the siteand reported the findings to the City of Des Moines Environmental Health Department. The IowaDepartment of Natural Resources (IDNR) was then contacted and a site investigation wassubsequently conducted. That investigation included a site reconnaissance and the collection ofsurface soil samples. The samples were analyzed for total lead by the IDNR laboratory. Analytical test results for the composite samples indicated lead in the soil in concentrationsranging from 520 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 4,500 mg/kg.2 A commonly used removalaction level in residential soils by EPA Region VII on similar sites is 500 mg/kg. EPA was thencontacted by IDNR and a Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START) wasasked to conduct an Integrated Site Assessment (ISA) investigation.

An ISA investigation was performed at the FDB site on June 26 and 27, 1996, by START. A 25foot grid was established over the entire area and a Metorex X-Met 880 X-Ray fluorescencespectrometer (XRF) was used to screen the surface soil to determine the extent of leadcontamination. Sample locations are shown on Figure 4. Surface soil samples (0 to 2 inches in depth) were collected from locations identified by the XRF as having elevated lead concentrationsand submitted to the EPA Region VII Laboratory for total metals analysis. Additional soil wascollected for semi-volatile and volatile organic compound (VOC) analysis from the samelocations. A background surface soil sample was collected for laboratory analysis from RiverviewPark, approximately 1/4 mile west of the site. According to Ecology and Environment, Inc., (aprivate environmental contractor), no sediment or water samples were collected because nodrainage pathways were observed.3

The GeoprobeTM was used to collect soil samples from below the paved area of the site (locationJ-5 on Figure 4) and from a location where the highest level of lead (6,788 mg/kg) was indicatedby the XRF (location K-9 on Figure 4). These soil samples were then screened with the XRF toassess lead contamination at various depths. XRF results indicated that only samples fromlocation K-9 had elevated lead concentrations present at a depth of 12 inches below ground level(1,567 mg/kg).

Elevated concentrations of metals, including arsenic and lead (lead up to 8,660 mg/kg), weredetected in surface soil on the site. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at levels thatexceeded comparison values and health-based benchmarks were also found in surface soil. NoVOCs were detected in soil samples. Contaminants of concern and their concentrations in on-sitesurface soil are given in Table 1. Although PAHs were detected on-site, they may not be relatedto FDB operations.

The START gridded and screened an open lot northeast of the site because of a resident'sobservation that soil from the northeast part of the site was removed a couple of years earlier andwas used as backfill in that lot (Figure 5). On June 27, 1996, limited XRF screening wasconducted on residential property to the north and on commercial property south of the site. Access for sampling was not granted from the business to the east of the site, and from oneresidence to the north. Contaminants of concern in off-site surface soil are given in Table 2.

Table 1.

Contaminants of Concern in On-Site Surface Soil
CompoundConcentration Range
Comparison Values
Arsenic1.51-18.80.950.4 CREG
Benzo(a)pyrene4.1-30.0BDL0.1 CREG


NE= No established value
CREG= Cancer Risk Evaluation Guide
BDL= Below detection limit

Table 2.

Contaminants of Concern in Off-Site Surface Soil
CompoundConcentration Range
Comparison Values
Arsenic1.51-2.820.950.4 CREG
Benzo(a)pyrene4.1BDL0.1 CREG


NE= No established value
CREG= Cancer Risk Evaluation Guide
BDL= Below detection limit

Site visit

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and TSEP staff visited the site ondifferent occasions from November 1996 to August 1997. The site was not fenced and wasaccessible to the public. During one of the site visits the wind was strong and fugitive dust wasvisible. At that same visit, a pickup truck drove over the site, again creating visible fugitive dust toagency staff. Two students from nearby North High School were observed cutting across the siteto the residential neighborhood.

A deteriorated concrete pad covered the southeast portion of the site and the remaining area waspartly vegetated or open. Although chunks of lead could be seen on the pad's concrete surface,no lead was apparent on the surface soil. The only structure on the site, a small metal storagebuilding, was locked. A pile of different diameter pipes was observed next to the building. Employees of the businesses to the south and east of the site park their vehicles on the site. Tiretracks could be seen over the entire area. Two semi-truck trailers were located on the concretepad. It appeared they were being used as a temporary shelter by a homeless man. An old chair,many sheets of cardboard, and some household items were seen at the trailers. Several metaldrums were observed there as well. A partially burnt tree was also seen on the site close to thelake's bank.

The two semi-truck trailers have since been relocated from the site to a land area on the west sideof Riverview Park Lake. More recently, vegetated areas of the site have been mowed and thedrums and the pile of pipes have been removed. A shallow and a deep storm sewer drain arelocated north of the concrete pad between the site and the closest residence. Neither of the stormsewer drains were covered. The City of Des Moines' Public Works Department was contacted byTSEP staff and the opening to the deep drain was covered for safety reasons to prevent physicalinjury. The deep drain discharges into the city sewer system. The shallow drain has been pluggedand covered with soil.

A 55 year old homeless man has been living on the site for the past three years and he is still livingthere. On August 26, 1997, he volunteered to have his blood tested for lead at BroadlawnsHospital in Des Moines. The test result detected a blood lead level of 16 micrograms per deciliter(g/dL).

Three residents, living north and northeast of the site, said that children usually visit the site afterschool (North High School is located three blocks southeast of the site) on their way home andduring periods of warm weather. In addition, some people used the site to walk their dogs. Allthis information was confirmed by a homeless person who lives on the site. Residents were notaware of site contamination. It is not known if workers who park their cars on the site are awareof the contaminated soil.

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