USS Lead Superfund Site
The environmental regulatory agencies in Indiana are the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management), which split regulatory responsibility for the local environment. This balance leans more heavily towards the IDEM, since the EPA has to divide its attention amongst six states in the region while the IDEM’s sole focus is just the state of Indiana. Additionally, each agency contributes to Indiana’s environmental regulation in different ways, each playing to the strengths of their individual legal jurisdictions. The EPA develops and enforces regulations, awards federal grants, studies environmental issues in its numerous nationwide laboratories, sponsors partnerships with local agencies (like the IDEM), teaches people about the environment, and publishes information. Their mission is multi-faceted, but in regards to Indiana the EPA works to ensure all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn, and work and takes statewide efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information. The EPA differs from the IDEM since it is a federal institution and as such it monitors federal laws (as opposed to state laws), ensuring that laws protecting human health and the environment in the region are enforced fairly and effectively.
On the other hand, “IDEM’s mission is to implement federal and state regulations to protect human health and the environment while allowing the environmentally sound operations of industrial, agricultural, commercial and government activities vital to a prosperous economy”. The IDEM is relatively newer than the EPA, being founded only in 1986. Interestingly, there is a unique relationship between the two agencies since the first administrator of the EPA, William D. Ruckelshaus, was a native Indianan who drafted the Indiana Air Pollution Control Act of 1963 which laid the groundwork for what would later establish the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board. Before the IDEM was created, environmental regulations were administered by the Indiana State Board of Health and, before that, by the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board. The IDEM in Indiana might have not emerged had it not been for the EPA and its founding administrator. Today, the IDEM employs about 900 environmental professionals who perform numerous functions, including assessing air and water quality, issuing environmental permits, inspecting permitted facilities, developing state environmental rules, responding to environmental emergencies, overseeing cleanups of contaminated properties, managing voluntary pollution prevention programs, and raising public awareness about environmental protection in Indiana. Both the EPA’s and IDEM’s offices and programs in this region are similar in the fact that they both ensure compliance with environmental laws and rules that help protect Indiana and its environment. Both agencies complement each other since they must both be equally ready to deal with environmental emergencies, ensure effective communications with the public, provide for public participation in its decisions and activities, and investigate environmental crimes.
Of the ten U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional offices, the office for EPA Region 5 is in charge of handling environmental issues in Indiana. Aside from Indiana, Region 5 includes the states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and an area dedicated to the 35 Native American tribes. While not the biggest EPA region geographically, Region 5 deals with some of the nation’s biggest environmental issues, including the Grand Rapids vapor intrusion, the Flint drinking water response, the Great Lakes restoration initiative, and studies on petroleum coke and lead in drinking water in Chicago. But perhaps most importantly in Region 5, the EPA is dealing with managing the USS Lead Superfund Site, a large scale environmental accident area in Indiana.
A Superfund site is defined as “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment” (toxmap). These sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). This is the case with the USS Lead site that is located in East Chicago, Indiana, which was listed on the National Priorities List of the worst contaminated sites in the country in 2009. “[The Superfund] site includes part of the former USS Lead facility along with nearby commercial, municipal and residential areas.Â The primary contaminants of concern are lead and arsenic” (EPA Superfund 2).
“Lead contamination at Superfund sites presents a threat to human health and the environment. Lead, a naturally occurring element, can be harmful to humans (particularly children) when ingested or inhaled. Over time, lead has become a common environmental contaminant at Superfund sites across the country (EPA Superfund 1)”. While much of our lead exposure comes from human activities such as emissions of fossil fuels from leaded gasoline and past use of lead-based paint in homes, “lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites (EPA Lead)”. This was precisely the case with U.S. Smelter and Lead (USS Lead), our first key player and biggest culprit in the Indiana Superfund environmental disaster. A brief look at USS Lead’s history shows that “smelter operations began at the site in 1906, with the smelting of copper. In 1920, title to the property was transferred to USS Lead. Between 1972 and 1973, the USS Lead facility was converted to operate exclusively as a secondary lead smelter, recovering lead from automobile batteries and other sources of secondary lead” (EPA Case Summary). Even though USS Lead ceased operations in 1985, the environmental damage was already done and a nearby public housing complex and several residential properties suffered severe lead contamination.
According to the EPA, the other two key players that caused this problem are the Atlantic Richfield Corporation (ARC) and E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co. (DuPont). The USS Lead Superfund Site is located on a 79-acre tract of land in East Chicago, Indiana, and includes both the former USS Lead facility and ARC and DuPont, all of which operated facilities in the same area. While USS Lead was the most significant contributor to contamination in the area, the EPA’s investigations indicate that the other two facilities were also significant sources of contamination to the residential area. Specifically, ARC and DuPont contributed through arsenic contamination which contains different pollutant properties than the aforementioned USS Lead contamination. According to the EPA, “when lead is released to the air from industrial sources or vehicles, it travels long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may also move from soil into ground water depending on the type of lead compound and the characteristics of the soil (EPA Lead)”. But sometimes small quantities of elemental arsenic are added to other metals with the goal of forming metal mixtures or alloys with improved properties. In fact, the greatest use of arsenic in alloys is in lead-acid batteries for automobiles. Therefore, similarly to lead, when those arsenic alloys were heated in smelters at the ARC and DuPont sites, most of the arsenic went up the stack and entered the air as a fine dust that again settled on the ground and stuck to soil particles. This sets the stage for additional health problems in the nearby community, including dangerous levels of arsenic accumulation in soil, water, plants, animals, and ultimately even humans who consumed anything exposed to arsenic.
“On October 28, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana approved a consent decree between the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the state of Indiana, Atlantic Richfield Company, and E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co. (DuPont). Under the settlement, Atlantic Richfield and DuPont agree to pay 100 percent of the costs incurred to implement the cleanup and will spend an estimated $21 million to clean up contaminated soil in the Calumet neighborhood of East Chicago, Indiana” (EPA Case Summary).
“Before work begins, EPA officials will meet with property owners to discuss details of the cleanup on their property. In general, workers will dig up and remove contaminated soil up to two feet deep and replace it with clean soil, including six inches of topsoil. As a final step, workers will put grass seed or lay sod on the topsoil, restoring each yard to a healthful and clean condition – all at no cost to the homeowner. The responsible parties will transport the contaminated soil to a licensed landfill for proper disposal. EPA anticipates that approximately 723 residential yards will be cleaned up” (EPA Case Summary).