Bulldozers, backhoes and white-clad men with shovels Tuesday began removing lead-tainted soil from yards of private homes in West Jordan.

More than 50 properties will be involved in the cleanup this summer, said Environmental Protection Agency officials, who are supervising what is being called one of the fastest environmental responses ever in the West.The project was ordered earlier this year after health officials concluded that properties along the 11.5-mile-long Bingham Creek in southwest Salt Lake County were contaminated with dangerous levels of lead.

The contamination was discovered last October, and the EPA decided to begin the cleanup work as quickly as possible because it affected a densely populated area, according to Steve Way, EPA's on-site coordinator.

The work is being financed by Kennecott Corp., which has agreed to give the EPA $2.25 million for the removal of contaminated soil and to pay $2.5 million to haul it to a permanent repository in Bingham Canyon.

Kennecott spokesman Gregory H. Boyce said the EPA contractors will do the removal work, but Kennecott has hired its own contractor to haul the soil to the repository 15 miles away.

Kenneth L. Alkema, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Health, said his division is pleased and excited about the quick response and cooperation by the EPA, Kennecott and local officials.

Alkema said blood tests administered to about 150 area children last year revealed no acute health problems. But he said it was clear to everyone that the contamination had to be removed.

Work Tuesday began west of 2700 West along 8600 South. Officials said the crews will take pains to avoid damaging shrubbery, structures, fences and sprinkler systems as they scrape 18 inches of soil from each of the affected properties.

One unresolved issue is what to do with the contamination at an additional 30 to 40 properties, where lead levels were not quite as extreme. The EPA identified the most critical areas as those with lead levels far in excess of 500 parts per million.

Way said the less-contaminated properties, along with public parcels and the creek bed itself, will be cleaned up at a later date.

The residential cleanup is expected to be completed by October, one year after the problem was identified.

West Jordan City Manager Terry Holzworth said area residents are taking the difficulties in stride. He also said that the community can be assured that the work will make the area safe.

"The soil is only a problem if you breathe it as dust, and any contamination will be removed and replaced with 18 inches of good soil," Holzworth said.

At least one resident, Candido Abeyta, has questioned whether the external cleanup is adequate. He cites high lead levels found in the crawl space and earthen basement beneath his house.