State and federal environmental authorities have cited Whiting Metals for releasing high concentrations of lead emissions into the air near neighborhoods already severely contaminated by toxic metals.
Whiting Metals, which operates on the former Federated Metals property at 2230 Indianapolis Blvd. in Hammond, is accused of releasing lead levels into the air over a three-month period that was more than twice the legal limit of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter, according to an U.S. EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management news release.
IDEM installed a lead ambient air monitor adjacent to the Whiting facility and began sampling in August. The federal health violations were discovered during a three-month period through October, the release said.
"Based on the most recent data collected at IDEM’s monitor, the three-month average lead concentration at the monitor reached 0.31 μg/m3 for the period of August through October 2018," EPA and IDEM said in a news release.
The old Federated Metals site is in the Robertsdale neighborhood, which straddles the Hammond/Whiting border. The plant and landfill are in Hammond, but EPA has been testing the soil at homes in Hammond and Whiting.
In response to elevated lead concentrations detected by the air monitor, EPA and IDEM inspected the facility in September, according to the release.
A meteorological tower and an additional air monitor was installed to collect hourly lead concentrations. That helped authorities determine the Whiting Metals facility is the primary contributor of the emissions, as the highest lead concentrations have been detected during the facility’s operating hours and coming from the direction of the facility.
Lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and the cardiovascular system. Infants and young children are especially sensitive to lead, which may contribute to behavioral problems and learning deficits.
Time-critical removal of soil in several nearby contaminated residential yards near the old metals site began this spring, though Federated Metals has not been proposed for EPA's Superfund program. The cleanup was authorized by the EPA.
The federal agency in April authorized additional funding for the emergency removal of the most contaminated soil from around homes occupied by sensitive populations, such as children and pregnant women, living near the former Federated Metals site.
As of Oct. 5, the agency had excavated and backfilled soil at 16 properties, an EPA spokeswoman said.
The announcement comes on the heels of IDEM approving a 10-year air permit in December for Whiting Metals, despite objections by the Hammond City Council and several area residents.
The agencies are evaluating potential enforcement options under the Clean Air Act and state authorities.