EPA needs property owners' permission to test soil

      People in North Birmingham are demanding answers to respiratory problems. They believe industrial pollution is to blame. But to find out, the{}EPA needs help.

      The EPA has expanded soil testing from 12 hundred to 15 hundred sites. But only 300 property owners{}have signed access forms to allow{}workers onto their property to collect soil.

      U.S. House District 7 Congresswoman Terri Sewell{}is now asking people to return the forms, so answers can be found.

      For the{}past week,{}EPA workers in orange vests and protective gloves have been digging holes in North Birmingham yards.

      "It involves digging up a particular areas of the yard- front and backyard, making sure you have a good mix of soil, so it's not just hot spots," explained Gwen Keyes Fleming, the regional administrator of EPA Region 4.

      Fleming{}watched as soil was removed from the yard of aCollegeville house and bagged for testing. She says it will then take 60 to 90 days to identify and notify property owners of any pollutants.

      "A{}lot of the pace will be dictated by how quickly we can get these access agreements in. The faster we get them in, the faster we can get the samples, send them off and get some results," she said.

      So far, the{}EPA only has permission to test 300 of 15 hundred properties in Collegeville,{}Fairmont and Harriman neighborhoods. At this point, officials say it's going to be at least February before the sampling is complete.

      But the{}EPA and congresswoman want answers about whether there is industrial contamination, so clean up can begin.

      "The health and well being of this community is of utmost importance not just to my office and the{}EPA but all concerned, so{}I think it's important we stay vigilant," said Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

      The access forms were mailed to property owners. But they are also available at the{}EPA field office at 1827 7th Avenue North.