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Hammond blames industrial fire in wake of swan deaths; company calls claim 'absurd'

Dead swans are seen Sunday along the shore of George Lake in Hammond. Bob Lukacsek said he's seen more than 30 dead swans in the area since September.

HAMMOND — City leaders will discuss the latest round of lead testing results from George Lake's north basin and the Lost Marsh Golf Course at a community meeting Tuesday night at Calumet College of St. Joseph. 

More than a dozen mute swans have been found dead around George Lake since October, including six with elevated lead levels, prompting Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. to order soil testing to determine if city property contained dangerously elevated lead and arsenic levels.

The testing was also conducted to determine if those levels were in any way responsible for the swan deaths on George Lake.  

Concerned citizens and several groups — including two environmental scientists, a Hoosier Environmental Council attorney, a representative from the Duneland Group of the national Sierra Club, leaders of the Sand Ridge Audubon Society — plan to attend the meeting, according to environmentalist Carolyn Marsh, of Whiting. 

Of 27 samples taken, two lead and two arsenic readings along the bike path on the north side of George Lake and near the former Federated Metals site were slightly above the EPA screening levels for residential areas, but well below current EPA levels requiring a removal action, according to the city.

City staff noted the results are far below the 91,100 parts per million levels unearthed in 2016 at the now-shuttered West Calumet Housing Complex — which required residents to evacuate. EPA considers levels higher than 400 ppm dangerous for residential areas; 1,200 ppm requires emergency cleanup action. 

HDEM Director Ron Novak previously said there has been a number of theories regarding the death of up to 30 swans.

McDermott has said he believes the mute swans may have ingested lead released during a fire Sept. 20 at Federated Metals, which operated from 1937 to 1973, and the company dumped its slag piles directly into the lake, filling in the northeast shore, records show. The company has argued they are being singled out. 

Novak said a second set of sampling results will be released at Tuesday's meeting. 

The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Calumet College of St. Joseph, Room 200, at 2400 New York Avenue.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.