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U.S. EPA REGION 5
LAKE COUNTY
EAST CHICAGO

Congressional District # 01

U.S. SMELTER AND LEAD REFINERY, INC.

EPA ID# IND047030226
Last Updated: December, 2014

Site Description

The former site of the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc (USS Lead) operation is located on a 79-acre parcel of land in East Chicago, Indiana. The area is primarily industrial with nearby residential areas. The old plant location is bordered by the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad to the north, the East-West Toll Road and the East Branch of the Grand Calumet River to the south, Kennedy Avenue to the east, and Indiana Harbor Canal to the west. From 1906 to 1920, the company added a primary lead smelter to its operation. USS Lead converted to secondary smelting in 1973, recovering lead from scrap metal and old automobile batteries. All operations were discontinued in 1985. Two primary waste materials were generated as a result of the smelting operations: 1) blast furnace slag and 2) lead-containing dust emitted by the blast furnace stack. Blast furnace slag was stockpiled south of the plant building and once a year spread over an adjoining 21 acres of wetlands. The lead-containing dust was originally trapped in bag filters and stored in a three- to five-acre area for future recycling.

In 1975 and 1985, USS Lead received a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge furnace cooling water and storm water runoff to the Grand Calumet River. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), permit levels were exceeded for several materials. In the 1980s, several state and federal enforcement actions were taken against the company. In September 1985, the Indiana State Board of Health (ISBH) found USS Lead in violation of state law because lead particles were found downwind of the site.

Approximately four million people rely on drinking water drawn primarily from intakes in Lake Michigan, which is 15 miles downstream of where hazardous substances from the site enter surface water. Approximately 7,500 people work or attend school within two miles of the site.

Since 1985, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action program has overseen the remediation and management of lead-contaminated soils within the boundaries of the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. facility. The remediation of the facility included the placement of the contamination in a Corrective Action Management Unit (CAMU). The remediation included the on-site wetlands. EPA sampled soil in the residential areas north of USS Lead as part of the RCRA Corrective Action investigation. Those sampling results showed that some yards in the East Chicago residential area had high levels of lead. The area includes about 1,500 homes, a few parks, schools, and public buildings. Many of the yards are located very close to the USS Lead facility. In 2005, the EPA RCRA Corrective Action program referred the USS Lead site to the Superfund program for the cleanup of the residential portion of the site. In 2006, RCRA Corrective Action amended the referral to include the wetlands as a part of the referral.

EPA placed the USS Lead site on the National Priorities List in April 2009.

Site Responsibility

The site is being addressed through federal, state, and potentially responsible parties' actions.

Threats and Contaminants

Elevated levels of lead existed in the blast furnace slag. Substantial amounts of lead-containing dust contaminated the USS Lead buildings and surrounding soils. According to IDEM, the permit levels for lead, cadmium, copper, arsenic, and zinc were exceeded over the years. These permit violations, as well as the dumping of blast furnace slag water into wetlands, led to surface water contamination. In addition, elevated levels of lead have been found in the yards of numerous homes near the facility. 

During the RCRA investigations, high levels of lead were found in the wetlands portion of the USS Lead property. Though some slag and lead-containing sediment was removed from the wetlands, there may still be remaining lead contamination. Lake Michigan, the Grand Calumet River, and the Indiana Harbor Canal are nearby fishing areas. The Grand Calumet River Natural Area, located one-quarter mile southeast of the site, has two endangered species. Hammond Beach Marina is four miles west of where the canal enters Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan, Wahala Beach, and several other major recreation areas are located within 15 miles of the site. These areas are at risk of contaminant migration.

During EPA's Superfund investigation of the residential portion of the site, EPA conducted a baseline Human Health Risk Assessment to evaluate the current and potential future effects on human health of contaminant concentrations in soil. The assessment concluded that at the residential portion of the site, health risks are driven primarily by lead and arsenic concentrations in soil. Direct contact and inhalation of lead- or arsenic-contaminated soils pose the greatest health risks. Lead may also be ingested if residents have gardens and eat produce from the gardens.

EPA has not identified any ecological habitats within the residential portion of the site. A wetland area located within OU2 will be evaluated in the future as part of the investigation for that portion of the site.

Cleanup Progress

EPA has divided the USS Lead Superfund site into two different operable units (OUs). OU1 includes the residential portion of the site and OU2 consists of the USS Lead facility and sitewide groundwater.

In June 2009, EPA began a Superfund remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) of the residential portion of the site (OU1). Based on the sampling results, EPA conducted a limited cleanup of residential yards during 2008 and 2011 using Superfund removal authorities. A total of 29 properties were cleaned up during these removal actions. EPA's RI Report and FS Report for OU1 were finalized in 2012.

On November 30, 2012, EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for OU1, in which EPA selected a cleanup plan for the residential portion of the site. The selected remedy includes excavation and off-site disposal of soil with lead concentrations exceeding 400 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) and arsenic concentrations exceeding 26 mg/kg, to a maximum depth of 2 feet. At industrial or commercial properties, EPA will clean up lead that exceeds 800 mg/kg. EPA estimates that approximately 53% of the properties in the area (roughly 723 of 1,271 properties) will require cleanup.

On October 28, 2014, the United States and the State of Indiana, reached an agreement with the Atlantic Richfield Company and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. (DuPont) for the cleanup of parts of the residential portion of the USS Lead Site. The agreement is embodied in a federal consent decree. Under the consent decree, EPA will conduct the cleanup work in the neighborhood using funding provided by the two companies. EPA will identify the yards that need to be remediated, work with property owners to develop property-specific drawings showing which soils on the property must be excavated, conduct the excavation work, and restore the properties after excavation is completed. Atlantic Richfield and DuPont will pay for EPA’s work and also will transport the contaminated soil out of the neighborhood for proper disposal.

To manage the cleanup, EPA and the State divided the Calumet neighborhood into three zones. The October 2014 consent decree covers two of the three zones: a neighborhood that includes the Carrie Gosch Elementary School and residences operated by the East Chicago Housing Authority (Zone 1) and a neighborhood located between the Elgin & Joliet Railway Line on the west and Parrish Avenue on the east (Zone 3). Cleanup of the third area of the Calumet neighborhood (Zone 2) is the subject of further negotiations between the parties.

In November 2014, EPA began sampling properties in Zone 1 for the purpose of generating specific cleanup designs for each property. EPA anticipates completing those sampling activities and beginning the Zone 1 cleanup work in the spring of 2015. EPA anticipates starting Zone 3 sampling work in the spring of 2015 and starting the Zone 3 cleanup work in the summer of 2015. Multiple work crews will be used so that cleanup work can occur in both residential zones at the same time.

Community Involvement

EPA worked with the East Chicago government to gain access to the residential properties within OU1. EPA held a number of public meetings during the pre-remedial work for USS Lead (before the site was placed on the National Priorities List) and will hold more meetings throughout the Superfund process.

EPA released the OU1 Proposed Plan for public comment on July 12, 2012. At the request of the City of East Chicago, EPA extended the public comment period for 30 additional days until September 12, 2012. EPA held a public meeting in East Chicago on July 25, 2012, to describe the Proposed Plan and answer questions about the different cleanup alternatives. EPA's responses to the public comments are contained in the November 2012 ROD, which is available at the site information repositories.

Since the release of the ROD, EPA has been in regular communication with the City of East Chicago, which is looking to redevelop portions of OU1 as part of their city-wide revitalization efforts. EPA is committed to coordinating its cleanup work with the city's redevelopment efforts so that the two projects can proceed efficiently.

EPA held two public meetings in East Chicago in November 2014 announcing the start of remedial design sampling work. EPA will be directly communicating with residents and property owners throughout the cleanup process moving forward.

Property Reuse

The former USS Lead facility is not in reuse. Areas north of the facility are in residential use.

Contacts

Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
michael berkoff (berkoff.michael@epa.gov)
(312) 353-8983

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
janet pope
(312) 353-0628

Aliases

U.S. SMELTER & LEAD REFINERY INC.
U.S. SMELTER AND LEAD REFINERY, INC

 

Site Profile Information

This profile provides you with information on EPA's cleanup progress at this Superfund site.

 


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