PITTSBURG — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and a southeastern city have partnered to clean up and repurpose contaminated property for use in future commercial development.

The coordinated cleanup underway in Pittsburg is targeting contaminated soil left behind by a former zinc-smelting plant, Weir City Zinc Works, the Joplin Globe reported. The plant operated from around 1880 to 1920 and left concentrations of arsenic, cadmium and zinc on the property.

The former smelting plant site is identified as an orphan site, which means that the entities responsible for the pollution are unknown, unwilling or unable to pay for the cleanup.

"It's basically not taken on by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), so it's given to the states," said Jay Byers, Pittsburg's deputy city manager. "We want to put all of the land into productive use, and cleaning up is one of the first steps to be able to do that."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has contracted Missouri-based Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. to complete the environmental work. Crews are excavating about a foot of the contaminated soil, which will be compacted. The area will then be covered with uncontaminated soil.

Cleanup operations should finish in the next few weeks.

After completion of the cleanup, the city hopes to build a roadway extension in the area. The new road will connect existing businesses in the city's tax increment financing district.

Bob and Sandra Boys own a majority of the land that's being excavated and cleaned.

"Without the city or the state's participation in this, there's no way this would get done," Bob Boys said.

He said he's already received several inquiries from interested business owners hoping to move into the area.

"When you can clean up the area and make it safe for the future generations, and then get economic development behind it, it's a win all of the way around," Byers said.