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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, 2012

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 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 draw drinking water from intakes primarily into 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, EPA's 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 a part of the RCRA Corrective Action investigation. These sampling results showed that some yards in the East Chicago residential area had high levels of lead contamination. The area includes about 1,500 homes, a few parks, schools, and public buildings. Many of these yards are close to the USS Lead Facility. In 2005, the EPA RCRA Corrective Action program referred USS Lead 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.

 

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 contamination 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 long-term Remedial Action (RA). Presently, the facility has a Consent Order with the RCRA program. A CAMU has been built. 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.

EPA conducted a limited cleanup of yards in the nearby residential area during 2008 using Superfund removal authorities. 

EPA finalized the Site on the National Priorities List (NPL) on April 8, 2009. 

EPA began a Superfund remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) at the site in June 2009.  The draft RI Report is currently under review and the FS is underway.  EPA expects to select a final cleanup plan for the site during 2012.

Community Involvement

EPA has 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 NPL) and will hold more meetings during the Superfund RI/FS and remedy selection process.

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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