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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: January, 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

At this time, this site is being addressed through federal actions. EPA will continue to pursue enforcement of any potentially responsible parties throughout its work on the site.

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.

 

Cleanup Progress

Parts of the 79-acre facility have been addressed through a RCRA long-term remedial action. Presently, the facility has a Consent Order with the RCRA program. A CAMU has been built on the facility. In 2004, the RCRA program requested that Superfund manage the residential properties north and northeast of the facility because there may be multiple sources of lead to the residential area.

EPA conducted a limited cleanup of residential yards near the site during 2008 and 2011 using Superfund removal authorities. A total of 29 properties were cleaned up during these removal actions.

EPA began a Superfund remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) at the site in June 2009. The RI Report and FS Report for the residential portion of the site were finalized in 2012. 

On November 30, 2012, EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for Operable Unit 1 of the USS Lead Site, 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.  

EPA is currently negotiating with parties that may be potentially responsible for the cleanup. If EPA reaches a settlement with those parties, residential cleanup work could potentially begin during 2014.

Community Involvement

EPA worked with the East Chicago government to gain access to the residential properties within the site area. 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 Proposed Plan for Operable Unit 1, the residential area, 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.

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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