(This piece was originally published on September 4, 2017 in the Northwest Indiana Times.)

HAMMOND – A comment period remains open through Thursday on a lead-processing facility’s proposed permit to remove particulate testing requirements for new equipment approved earlier this year.

Hammond’s Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said there have been no serious problems with emissions in recent years at Hammond Group’s plant at 2308 165th St.

However, IDEM flagged the site for further investigation during a re-evaluation last year of all known lead sites in Indiana, a department spokesman said. The plant sits within a quarter mile of several residential areas, including the Tanglewood Apartments to the southwest and Hammond’s Woodmar and Hessville neighborhoods to the south and southeast.

Lead emissions eventually settle on the ground, contaminating soil.

Hammond Group operates several chemical facilities in the city, including the Hammond Lead facility off 165th Street.

State and federal regulators in 1985 investigated lead contamination in the soil around Hammond Lead and three other industrial sites in the area. Elevated lead levels were found near a trucking yard to the north of Hammond Lead, in the 6100 block of McCook Street, near a bridge on Kennedy Avenue that crosses over railroad tracks close to an Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad office building, along a parkway fence in the 2100 block of Sherman Street and near the Painters Union Local 460 building north of Kenwood Street.

The three other industrial sites tested in 1985 included USS Lead Refining, 5300 Kennedy Ave. in East Chicago, the former Federated Metals facility near New York Avenue and Indianapolis Boulevard in Hammond and in the vicinity of the former Amoco Oil Refinery and LTV Steel near 129th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard in East Chicago.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began excavating contaminated soil from the Calumet and East Calumet neighborhoods north of USS Lead last year, and more than 1,000 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex were forced by the East Chicago Housing Authority to leave their homes after lead and arsenic contamination there were found to be more severe and extensive than expected.

EPA also has been testing soil around the former Federated Metals plant, including in residential areas in the Robertsdale neighborhood in Hammond and Whiting. Residents have requested a public hearing on a proposed air permit for Whiting Metals, a lead-processing facility that now operates at the site, but no date has been set.

Ronald Novak, director of the Hammond Department of Environmental Management, said he likely would not submit any comments on the proposed air permit for Hammond Group because the facility has had no recent problems.

A representative at Hammond Group did not return a call seeking comment.

IDEM approved the construction of two new mills at the plant in April, both of which will vent to existing stacks.

IDEM said previous routine stack tests have shown lead emissions at the plant to be 0.5 percent of lead emissions limitations.

“Furthermore, particulate emissions are comprised almost entirely of lead, and the lead limitations are 80 percent lower than the particulate limitations,” IDEM said.

IDEM’s Office of Air Quality reviewed the data and concluded compliance monitoring for lead is an appropriate means of monitoring for particulate, the department said. IDEM “will revisit this decision when reviewing the results of the future stack tests and has the right to incorporate compliance monitoring specific to particulate if the department deems it necessary,” a spokesman said.

Sam Henderson, an attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said prevailing winds in the Region are from the south and west, so emissions from the plant likely would be carried toward Hessville rather than the Tanglewood Apartments. However, winds can blow in other directions a certain amount of time and may blow in different directions at different altitudes, he said.

Henderson urged any residents concerned about the permit to submit comments to IDEM before the Thursday deadline.

“I’m not aware of any independent air or soil testing that’s been done to see whether there are any present or historical impacts from Hammond Lead,” Henderson said. “If I lived in Woodmar or Hessville, I’d want to know about that.”

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