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TIMELINE: History of the USS Lead Superfund site in E.C.

  • 15 min to read

1893-2000 — The former DuPont facility, formerly Grasselli Chemical Co., at 5215 Kennedy Ave., "processed a significant quantity of metals and other chemicals primarily in the production of various inorganic acids and organic and inorganic chemicals," including lead arsenate, zinc oxide and zinc chloride.

Circa 1906 — Delamar Copper Refinery Co. begins construction on majority of buildings that later would come to be known as USS Lead at 5300 Kennedy Ave.

1910 to 1949 — DuPont East Chicago facility at 5215 Kennedy Ave., which is east of USS Lead and south of 149th Place, manufactures lead arsenate insecticide. Cleanup at the DuPont site is ongoing under the Environmental Protection Agency's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program.

1912-1954 — Facilities formerly known as Anaconda Lead Products, in zone 1 of the USS Lead Superfund site, "processed and refined significant quantities of lead and other metals and chemicals, including arsenic."

1920 — The USS Lead facility is purchased by U.S. Smelting Refinery and Mining and later by USS Lead.

Prior to 1939 — Much of the backfilling of the residential area north of USS Lead, including West Calumet, Calumet and East Calumet, has been completed. Except in “a few” locations, backfill extends down about 24 inches before native sand is found, according to EPA documents.

By 1939 — Most of the residences in zone 2 have been completed. About 50 percent of the residences in zone 3 have been built.

Jan. 6, 1956 — The former James A. Garfield School is destroyed by fire. Garfield School was at the southeast corner of 148th Street and Melville Avenue.

1959 — Anaconda Lead Products facility still exists in the area of the present-day West Calumet Housing Complex, about six blocks south of Carrie Gosch Elementary School; it is unknown exactly when the facility was demolished. Most of the homes in zone 3 have been completed.

Nov. 8, 1959 — The original Carrie Gosch School is dedicated. The School City of East Chicago later constructed a new school building next to the site of the old building.

1963 to 1971 — John Nicosia serves as mayor

1970-1973 — West Calumet Housing Complex is constructed

1972 to October 2004 — Robert Pastrick serves as mayor

1972 and 1973 — USS Lead is converted to a secondary smelter; instead of refining lead ore, the facility begins recovering lead from scrap metal and automotive batteries.

1980 — USS Lead receives interim status under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act is enacted and establishes the federal Superfund program.

September 1985 — Indiana State Department of Health finds USS Lead in violation of state law because lead particles are found downwind of the plant.

Nov. 21, 1985 — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky writes a letter to EPA Region 5 administrator, asking EPA to initiate a hazardous waste removal action at the USS Lead site under the Superfund law, because the Indiana State Board of Health has determined the facility is responsible for lead contamination in the area surrounding the refinery.

1985 — EPA samples soil. Lead levels in the area of the USS Lead facility range from 100 parts per million to 11,000 ppm at a point that is 25 feet east of Kennedy Avenue, near the intersection of Kennedy and 151st Street. Samples taken in the area of the West Calumet Housing Complex range from 100 ppm in the park south of Carrie Gosch Elementary School to 160 ppm at the southwest corner of a park near Magnolia and Aster streets and west of the baseball field backstop.

December 1985 — USS Lead ceases operations.

1990 — Indiana Department of Environmental Management adopts a partial interim agreed order requiring USS Lead to develop a cleanup for the site.

February 1992 — USS Lead site is proposed for Superfund National Priorities List after USS Lead’s parent company files for bankruptcy.

Nov. 8, 1993 — USS Lead enters into an administrative order of consent under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. USS Lead begins cleanup of its facility excavating soils and securing them on-site under the RCRA agreement. IDEM oversees cleanup.

Aug. 24, 1994 — A public health assessment of USS Lead performed by Indiana State Department of Health under cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The report notes no community health concerns were noted during questioning of the Lake County Health Department, EPA and IDEM. Also, no comments were received during a public comment period from May to June 1993.

June 20, 1996 — EPA holds public hearing.

September 1996 — USS Lead conducts public meeting.

Nov. 8, 1996 — EPA issues a response to public comments and Corrective Action Management Unit designation, which detailed the plan to confine hazardous waste on site. Construction of the CAMU is overseen by federal authorities. The CAMU includes a perimeter subsurface slurry wall, an engineered final cover, an inwardly induced hydraulic gradient, and a long-term groundwater monitoring system.

May 1997 — Indiana State Department of Health, federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and EPA representatives visit the Calumet neighborhood and observe the following: “home gardens are in the West Calumet neighborhood,” “an elementary school that services both communities is undergoing construction. Per the EPA project manager, this is the site of an old lead smelter (Anaconda),” and “The Calumet community, per EPA project manager, is built on an old metal-processing plant (Eagle Pitcher).” Those facilities later were determined to have occupied the same site, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

June 17, 1997 — DuPont and EPA enter into a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act corrective action administrative order on consent "to determine the nature and extent of any releases of hazardous waste and/or hazardous constituents at or from the former DuPont facility, and to address such releases as appropriate." Contamination at the former DuPont facilities in 2017 continues to be addressed under this order.

July 1997 — East Chicago Health Department, Indiana State Health Department and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) hold public information sessions and offer free lead screening. Testing is offered in West Calumet and Calumet areas, which later were dubbed zones 1 and 2. A total of 95 people are tested. Of those, 30 are children age 6 or younger. Ten of those 30 children have a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater. Eight of the children live in West Calumet. One child age 6 or younger in Calumet tests at 41 micrograms per deciliter, and an 8-year-old with a history of elevated blood lead levels tests at 39 micrograms per deciliter.

Aug. 5, 1997 — An IDEM office memo says six surface soil samples collected in July 1997, lead levels above 400 parts per million are found in “a small area at the southwestern portion of the site.” A map on the memo shows levels of 1,000 and 1,400 ppm detected on the Carrie Gosch School property, along the southern property line and to the southwest of the new school that was under construction. Of two samples collected along the northern boundary of the West Calumet Housing Complex property, “neither had lead levels of concern.” The map shows those samples have levels of 12 and 140 ppm. The memo says a contractor for the school district will be advised to address the area on the southwest part of the school property. “No further assessment is planned for the West Calumet Housing Complex,” the memo says.

Aug. 28, 1997 — Another IDEM office memo says, “Apparently during an ongoing lead exposure survey at and around the USS Lead facility located 1/4 mile southeast of the former Anaconda Lead site, EPA noticed an ongoing construction project at the Carrie Gosch Elementary School, located six (6) blocks north of the former Anaconda site. The concern being the possibility of increased lead exposure to the school children associated with the construction project (because of) the past lead facilities operation in what is now a residential neighborhood.”

May 7, 1998 — The ATSDR issues an Exposure Investigation report, prepared by the Indiana State Department of Health under an agreement with ATSDR, that says, “After a review of EPA 1985 off-site lead concentrations, the ISDH and ATSDR determined that the West Calumet and Calumet communities are the populations at greatest risk to exposure to elevated lead levels. ISDH recommends that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management characterize the extent of lead contamination at the old Anaconda and Eagle Pitcher sites to determine if these sites could be contributing to high soil lead levels in the area. Of particular interest is the Anaconda site, because of new construction at the school. Six soil samples taken July 10 and 25, 1997, showed lead levels ranging from 12 to 298 ppm at the Eagle Pitcher site and 59 to 1,400 at the Anaconda site. Only a confined area of lead contamination at the Anaconda site contained lead above the action level for lead in residential soil (400 ppm).”

The report also notes 10 children in the West Calumet and Calumet areas test at 10 micrograms per deciliter for lead in their blood in July 1997. Historical blood lead level data showed that from 1990 to 1997, 30 percent of children in the area had elevated blood lead levels (over 10 mg/dL), while 10.9 percent had elevated blood lead levels statewide. The mean blood lead level for all 337 children tested between 1990 and 1997 was 8.31, and 30.9 percent of those children had levels greater than 10 mg/dL, according to the report. Soil samples have not been taken in close proximity to the children’s homes. The report notes three recommendations that includes remediating the area of lead contamination at the Anaconda site, including the vicinity of the elementary school, to prevent current or future exposure. The report noted the recommended remediation was “scheduled by IDEM.” The extent of any remediation performed at the school is unclear; five of the more than 100 properties what is considered the old Anaconda site were cleaned up in 2011 by the EPA after limited soil sampling showed lead levels above 1,200 ppm.

Aug. 29, 1999 — The new Carrie Gosch Elementary School was dedicated. During its construction, students continued to attend classes at the old school site adjacent to the new building. After the dedication, the school district tore down the old school.

Nov. 14, 2000 — Law Engineering and Environmental Services, which was hired by USS Lead, issues a draft independent assessment of lead air emissions affecting East Chicago that notes the Anaconda and Eagle Pitcher facilities. “Two former lead smelters, Eagle Pitcher and Anaconda (facilities identified by Entact), were located within the contoured areas. Based on currently available data, it does not appear that lead content of the soil is elevated (relatively) northeast of their location.” The assessment notes sampling indicates the DuPont facility also likely was a source of airborne contamination, because of lead levels detected east of the facility. The report also concludes, “If it is EPA’s position that USS Lead was the sole contributor of lead in the soil in the area, then we believe this is a premature conclusion.”

2002 — DuPont installs a permeable reactive barrier near the northern facility boundary to address arsenic-contaminated groundwater coming off the former DuPont facility. "Nonetheless, groundwater sampling results from the northern edge of the former DuPont facility continue to show levels of arsenic above the maximum contaminant level. Groundwater monitored at these wells is expected to be captured by the municipal sewer system. However, EPA has not verified the extent of capture, and sampling results from the area north of the former DuPont facility (zone 3) show arsenic in groundwater above the maximum contaminant level," according to a Sept. 20, 2017, agreement for a remedial investigation and feasibility study for operable unit 2.

April 5, 2002 — TechLaw Inc., while working for EPA, issues an air dispersion modeling and historical aerial photograph review that notes two areas of high concentrations on the DuPont property south of zone 2 (page 9). A handwritten note on Page 8 indicates the localized concentrations may be a result of DuPont contamination rather than air deposition. A handwritten note on Figure B-1, which shows an aerial deposition model that includes USS Lead and two Hammond facilities, says, “Missing Anaconda and Eagle-Pitcher lead smelters.”

November 2002 — Upon completion of soil excavation and disposal activities, USS Lead finishes capping hazardous waste at its facility

July-August 2003 — EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Corrective Action program samples soil “in the residential area north of USS Lead and found high levels of lead contamination in some yards, with the highest lead levels being in the southern area.” A total of 83 residential properties were sampled. “Soils from 43 locations (52 percent) exceeded the 400 mg/kg residential soil screening criterion for lead,” EPA documents say. The highest lead concentration found in a sample was 3,000 ppm. A timeline provided by the city said none of those properties was in West Calumet, or zone 1. EPA determined the lead contamination was from "various multiple industrial sources," according to a 2011 request for approval and funding for emergency soil removal.

2004 — RCRA referred the residential areas adjacent to the USS Lead facility to Superfund because it believed that elevated lead levels in soils adjacent to USS Lead could be attributed to the USS Lead facility.

2004 — EPA “tasked management of USS Lead to the federal Superfund program for cleanup of the residential yards and the wetland.” A June 24, 2004, EPA Region 5 memo says, “The RCRA program has determined it is most advantageous that the Superfund program address the cleanup responsibilities for offsite contamination from this facility. The off-site soil lead contamination related to this facility is commingling with lead from various pre-CERCLIS (Superfund law) screening lead sites in nearby residential areas.”

January 2005 to Sept. 24, 2010 — George Pabey serves as mayor

2006 — RCRA refers remaining portions of the USS Lead facility to CECLA because of residual contamination in wetlands and soil.

March 2006 — EPA issues notice titled “EPA to begin testing for lead contamination in yards,” which says “samples will be taken from yards in an area between East Chicago Avenue and 151st Street, and between Aster Street and Parrish Avenue.” The information sheet says lead is highly toxic and can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures, death and other health effects. It warns children age 6 and younger are most at-risk.

March 22 and 23, 2006 — EPA holds two meetings to explain residential testing process and answer questions.

April 2006 — EPA re-samples 14 residential properties in operating unit 1. “Analysis confirmed that at least 12 properties had lead contamination levels higher than 1,200 parts per million. That finding, combined with other studies, lead to an emergency cleanup in 2008 targeting 15 properties. Thirteen of 15 yards were cleaned up,” a 2012 EPA fact sheet said.

Nov. 8, 2006 — EPA and IDEM hold meeting at 151st Street Recreation Center about post-closure operation and maintenance of the correction action management unit/landfill associated with the former USS Lead facility.

2007 — EPA Superfund program does limited testing as part of transition from EPA’s RCRA program to Superfund program. “As part of the NPL listing process, EPA and IDEM evaluated contaminant concentrations focusing on the southwestern portion of the residential area. This evaluation was later expanded during the remedial investigation to cover the entirety of the Calumet neighborhood, which would later be dubbed operating unit 1. EPA sampled 88 properties in 2009-10 during its full-scale remedial investigation."

October 2007 — EPA releases a fact sheet regarding the USS Lead site “to inform the public of the history and current issues at USS Lead.”

September 2008 — USS Lead site again proposed for the Superfund’s National Priorities List.

2008 — EPA conducts emergency soil removal at 13 of 15 properties targeted based on previous soil sampling results. Access was not granted at the two properties not cleaned up.

April 2009 — USS Lead site is added to the Superfund National Priorities List.

December 2009 to August 2010 — EPA contractor SulTRAC collects soil samples “from a total of 88 properties, distributed nearly evenly over operating unit 1 for uniform coverage of the area and to better understand the contamination.” The EPA’s 2012 proposed cleanup plan says, “Lead concentrations in both surface and subsurface soil samples were higher in the area west of Huish Avenue than in the eastern half of operating unit 1.” The highest arsenic and lead concentrations measured at operating unit 1 were found in the East Chicago Housing Authority complex. The concentrations at the complex “may be related to the historical operations at the Anaconda Copper Company facility, in addition to operations at operating unit 2 (USS Lead facility). The distribution of arsenic in soil suggests that there is more than one source of arsenic in operating unit 1.”

Oct. 16, 2010 — Anthony Copeland becomes mayor

Jan. 27, 2011 — ATSDR releases a Public Health Assessment for the USS Lead site in which it concluded the following: The site “posed a hazard to public health in the past from breathing in lead contaminated air prior to 1985” when USS Lead ceased operations; that “prior to 2006, lead contamination in yards downwind of the USS Lead site posed a public health hazard in the past for young children eating contaminated soil.” The report cited the cleanup of 13 of more than 1,200 properties in operating unit 1; and that “breathing air, drinking tap water or playing in soil around the USS Lead site is not expected to harm people’s health, as indicated by the declining blood lead levels in small children.” The report cited blood lead testing data for 1998 to 2008 from the Indiana State Department of Health that showed a declining number of children with elevated blood lead levels. It’s unclear if this data was specific to children in West Calumet and Calumet, or for all of East Chicago. While the ATSDR participated in blood testing while preparing a 1998 report, the 2011 report does not indicate any such participation.

October to December 2011 — EPA conducts emergency soil removal at 16 more properties where soil sampling found in 2009-2010 found lead levels exceeding 1,200 ppm. The action brought the total number of properties remediated by the Superfund emergency response program to 29. Five of the properties remediated were in West Calumet.

July 2012 — EPA releases a fact sheet and longer document detailing its proposed cleanup plan, a nearly 200-page remedial investigation report, a feasibility study report. The remedial investigation report says, “The smelter plants are the primary source of contamination, because during plant operations both airborne emissions were generated from plant stacks, and leaks and spills were likely. The fill materials that were used to raise the ground level in operating unit 1 when homes were built at the site are a second major potential source of contaminants.” The proposed plan fact sheet and document say maximum lead and arsenic concentrations at surface and subsurface soil was 9,406 mg/kg and 567 mg/kg, respectively. However, the remedial investigation report says the maximum lead levels detected were 27,100 ppm at a depth of 18 to 24 inches from the soil type “fill with slag” in a backyard on East 150th Place. The highest lead concentration in a front yard was found on Aster Avenue, where a sample of the soil type “fill with slag” at a depth of 12 to 18 inches registered 16,700 ppm. The higher lead levels were included in a record of decision issued in November 2012. The remedial investigation report also said, 34 flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and/or play areas from 25 properties were sampled and the most contaminated soil was taken from those areas at 12 of those properties.

July 25, 2012 — EPA holds public meeting to present the proposed plan.

November 2012 — Record of Decision is released.

Fall 2014 — A consent decree outlining $26 million settlement with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont is reached.

November 2014 — EPA begins extensive soil sampling in zone 1, because it was the area of highest concern, according to the agency. A project team began receiving preliminary data results around May 2015. Preliminary data for the entire zone was first compiled in a report in October 2015. Between May and October 2015, preliminary data showed there were spikes in lead levels. More than 1,000 preliminary sets of data compiled in the October 2015 report were run through required, extensive quality control procedures. Final data that was usable for final cleanup was received by EPA April 21, 2016, and EPA shared the data with East Chicago in May 2016. The city says EPA took the samples in November 2014 and April and May 2015 without notice to the city.

Feb. 1, 2016 — Susan Hedman steps down as administrator of the EPA Region 5 Chicago office in the wake of controversy about lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Acting Region 5 Administrator Robert Kaplan takes over.

May 24, 2016 — The city receives data from 2014-15 soil sampling. City says that the data was provided “after months of repeated requests for EPA’s data during meetings held at the EPA’s offices in Chicago.”

June 6, 2016 — City asks federal officials to help immediately relocate all residents in zone 1, “before any cleanup occurs, in order to protect residents from additional exposures,” a city timeline says.

June 7, 2016 — Mayor Copeland orders the East Chicago Health Department to perform blood lead testing for residents of West Calumet.

June 14, 2016 — The East Chicago Health Department meets with ATSDR, at EPA’s request, to discuss new health assessment for zone 1.

June 16, 2016 — Mayor Copeland sends letter to EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Kaplan outlining concerns about the lack or urgency in EPA's response over many years, asking EPA to relocate West Calumet Housing Complex residents and reiterating why he thinks the EPA's selected cleanup plan is not adequate.

June 29, 2016 — EPA Region 5 Administrator Kaplan sends letter responding to Copeland, outlining immediate steps EPA will be taking to address health risks at the housing complex.

June 30 or July 1, 2016 — ECHD begins voluntary blood lead testing.

July 11, 2016 — EPA begins sending letters to residents advising them of soil lead levels, according to a city timeline.

July 14, 2016 – Mayor Copeland sends urgent letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy accusing EPA, in part, of withholding data and breaking the city's trust.

July 25, 2016 — Mayor sends letter to West Calumet residents advising them they should temporarily relocate because of soil contamination.

July 27, 2016 — The East Chicago Housing Authority posts public notice of an Aug. 3 hearing on plans to demolish the West Calumet Complex.

July 26, 2016 — EPA finishes mulching outdoor areas to mitigate health risks posed by contaminated soil and dust.

Aug. 1, 2016 — EPA Region 5 Acting Administrator Kaplan responds to the mayor’s July 14 letter, outlining actions taken by EPA to address risks and saying he understood the city’s concerns about the delay in releasing zone 1 data. “I am committed to more effectively sharing information with you moving forward to constructively and collaboratively address environmental and public health issues and concerns at the site.”

Aug. 3, 2016 — The East Chicago Housing Authority holds a public hearing on its application to U.S. Housing and Urban Development to demolish the West Calumet Complex

Aug. 10, 2016 — The city provides verbal approval of EPA access to perform sampling of city-owned properties in zone 2.

Aug. 15, 2016 — Mayor hosts meeting attended personally by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, EPA and HUD leaders, and city officials.

Aug. 15, 2016 — EPA begins interior cleaning of units at West Calumet Complex.

Aug. 18, 2016 — ECHA briefs residents, begins to provide vouchers that are effective Sept. 1

Aug. 26, 2016 — Mayor meets with EPA to discuss remedial plan for zone 3 and EPA’s communications and notifications of residents.

Feb. 15, 2017 — The East Chicago Housing Authority finalizes an environmental site assessment for the former West Calumet Housing Complex in zone 1 of the Superfund site. "Groundwater sampling results from the (assessment) primarily show arsenic, lead, chromium and benz(a)anthracene contamination present above IDEM remediation closure guide residential tap screening levels."

Sources: EPA, EPA administrative record for the USS Lead Superfund site, East Chicago.


Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.

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