Historic town fights federal government and lead poisoning

You may never have heard of Caledonia, Missouri, but it’s one of the most historic spots in the state. While the town has fewer than two hundred residents, its tiny downtown is filled with old homes and shops. It boasts 33 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and a steady stream of visitors who take up the town’s invitation to “step back in time”.

Sadly, that all might be in danger. The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to designate 175 square miles of Washington County as a Superfund Site in order to clean up dangerously high lead levels in the soil and ground water. The little town of Caledonia is right in the middle of this area and stands to lose a lot of business if it’s slapped with the label of being dangerous. People may not want to eat at the local diner or attend the annual Pumpkin Festival if they think they’re going to get lead poisoning.

Caledonia is in southwest Missouri in what used to be known as the “lead belt” thanks to its large lead mining operations from the 18th to late 20th century. Lead from the mines has made it into the soil and ground water across much of this region. There are already three Superfund Sites in Washington County that have dangerously high lead levels.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a gallery dedicated to Caledonia. The town is protesting the EPA’s move, but there seems little it can do about it.