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PRELIMINARY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

U.S. SMELTER AND LEAD REFINERY, INC.
(a/k/a USS LEAD REFINERY INC.)
EAST CHICAGO, LAKE COUNTY, INDIANA


SUMMARY

The U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. (USS Lead), in East Chicago, Indiana, has been operating as a primary and secondary smelting facility since 1906. Since 1920, the primary product of USS Lead has been lead. Wastes which were produced during smelting operations are calcium sulfate sludge, blast furnace flue-dust, baghouse bags, rubber and plastic battery casings, and waste slag. Much of these wastes was stored on-site for recycling or disposal. All of the wastes, as well as on-site surface soils are heavily contaminated with lead and other metals. The plant ceased operations in 1985. Clean-up efforts were overseen by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The site was proposed to the National Priorities List in February 1992, when USS Lead's parent company, Sharon Steel, filed for bankruptcy.

Limited sampling information is available, and indicates that on-site soils and wastes are contaminated with lead and other metals. Additional sampling of off-site surface soils indicate that the contamination has spread off-site as far as one-half mile from the site. High lead levels have been found in surface soils at E.C. DuPont, which is adjacent to USS Lead. Ambient air monitoring, available for 1985 through 1989, indicates that elevated levels of lead were present in ambient air, both on- and off-site in 1985, when the smelter was in operation. Surface water and sediment on-site has also become contaminated with lead and other metals, as well as waste oil. Adverse health effects which could result from exposure to lead include impaired learning and behavioral tasks, altered motor activity, and mild changes in blood heme synthesis. Based on the completed exposure pathways to lead through soil ingestion and dust inhalation, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concludes that contamination from the USS Lead site is a public health hazard. Recommendations to reduce exposure include the use of dust-control methods during site remediation, and community education regarding the health effects of lead exposure and methods to lessen potential exposure.

BACKGROUND

A. Site Description and History

The U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. (USS Lead) formerly operated on a 79-acre tract of property at 5300 Kennedy Avenue in East Chicago, Lake County, Indiana. The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad is to the north of the site, the east-west toll road, and the east branch of the Grand Calumet River to the south, Kennedy Avenue to the east, and Indiana Harbor Canal to the west. It lies within the flood plain of the Grand Calumet River.

From about 1906 to 1920 a copper smelter operated on the property. Most of the buildings remaining on-site are part of the original facility and include the Tank House (baghouse dust), Store Building, Club Building, Main Office and Laboratory Building, Sulfuric Acid Building (renamed the Battery Breaker Building), Tellurium Building, and the Byproducts Building. There was also an Old Silver Refinery Building, which was demolished in the late 1960s; however, the concrete foundation of this building still remains. Starting in 1920, among other activities, USS Lead operated a primary lead smelter on 25 acres of the property. In 1973, USS Lead converted to secondary smelting, recovering lead from scrap metal and old automobile batteries. Batteries were dismantled on-site, littering the area with rubber and plastic battery casings, and contaminating area soils with battery acids. Acid crystals have been seen in on-site soils [1]. Two waste materials were generated during smelting. The blast furnace slag was piled up south of the plant building. The pile was leveled off once a year into what was originally a nearby 21-acre wetland, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Tests conducted in 1986 by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) detected elevated levels of lead in the slag. The second waste material, lead-containing flue-dust emitted by the blast furnace stack was originally trapped in bag filters and stockpiled on-site for possible recycling or sale. A larger blast furnace installed in 1973 was intended to recycle both new and stockpiled dust. Dust awaiting recycling covered a three- to five-acre area. In 1982, the dust was brought under cover in the Tank House building to prevent dispersion by wind and rain. The dust was removed from the site in June 1992. An additional facility to produce arsenic may have existed on-site [1].

In 1975, USS lead received a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination system (NPDES) to discharge furnace cooling water and storm water runoff collected from the site to the Grand Calumet River. A second permit was issued in April 1985. Over the years, the permit levels for lead, cadmium, copper, arsenic, and zinc were frequently exceeded according to IDEM. In the 1980s, several state and federal enforcement actions were taken against USS Lead for permit violations. These violations, plus the dumping of slag water into the wetland, have contributed to contamination of surface water in the area [2].

USS Lead ceased operation in December 1985. The site was proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to the National Priorities List (NPL) in February 1992, after USS Lead's parent company, Sharon Steel Corp, filed for bankruptcy. USS Lead's current parent company, the Mining Remedial Recovery Company (MMRC), has since agreed to financially support the clean-up activities at the site.

B. Site Visit

Dr. Dana Abouelnasr and Ms. Manna Muroya of ATSDR, and Ms. Dollis Wright and Mr. Garry Mills of the Indiana State Department of Health conducted a site visit of USS Lead on January 19, 1993. Also present were representatives from the US EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and the Lake County Health Department. Representatives were present from USS Lead and from Birchett Environmental Management, a contractor to MMRC. Evidence of damage from vandals was present throughout the site. A fence was installed around the facility in late 1991, restricting access to the area. Several buildings are on-site, and have become unsafe through lack of upkeep and by acts of vandals. A large portion of the area is wetlands, much of which have been filled with primary and secondary slag. A canal drains stormwater runoff from the area, and flows directly into the Grand Calumet River. Runoff from the southern portion of the site flows through a ditch to a marsh. The marsh drains into the Grand Calumet River. Large oil storage tanks were located near the canal. They have been removed from their pads and temporarily placed nearby. Groundwater seeping out of the banks reportedly contained floating fuel products. A black oily layer was observed floating on the canal water. A fuel odor was evident in the area. Battery casings littered much of the site. Old drums were also scattered throughout the site. Several piles of lead-contaminated baghouse bags were in one area. The building in which the baghouse dust had been stored prior to removal contained some dust, which the Birchett representative indicated would be cleaned. During the visit, Birchett Environmental Management employees were sorting chemicals from a chemical laboratory and storage room for disposal. They reported also finding asbestos pipe wrap which had been removed from scrap pipes by vandals.

The immediate vicinity surrounding the site was inspected. Several schools, one day care, and a nursing home (E.C. Rehab Center, now Lake County Rehabilitation Center) were observed within one mile of the site. Although the site is surrounded by industrial areas, residential areas are less than one-quarter mile away. Residences in the area are relatively small, and constructed on small lots. No evidence of vegetable gardens was observed. The population in the area appears to be in the lower income group.

C. Demographics, Land Use, and Natural Resource Use

Demographics

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 1990 the East Chicago population at 33,892, down from 39,786 in 1980. Approximately 7,500 people work or attend school within 2 miles of the site. A total of 71 people were employed at USS Lead while in operation.

Land Use

Land use in the immediate area is predominantly industrial; a DuPont Plant is located to the west, across Kennedy Avenue, and a tank farm is to the south, across the Grand Calumet River. Much of the southern part of the site adjacent to the Grand Calumet River is swamp. The nearest residences are within one-quarter mile north of the site.

Natural Resource Use

All water for drinking, commercial, and industrial uses is obtained from Lake Michigan. No private wells are in use near the site. A total of 4.1 million people obtain drinking water from intakes primarily into Lake Michigan within 15 miles downstream of where hazardous waste substances from the site enter into surface water. Lake Michigan, 3 miles south of the site, is used for fishing. The Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor, into which the river drains, are not fished. Hammond Beach Marina, which is used for recreation, is 4 miles west from where the canal enters Lake Michigan. Wabala Beach and several other major recreation areas are within 15 miles of the site.

D. Health Outcome Data

The Indiana State Board of Health conducted blood lead screening for children in East Chicago [3]. This screening was performed in response to ambient air monitoring results for lead in Lake County. The study included children aged six months to six years, and was performed over a two day period in June, 1985. USS Lead was still in operation at the time of the study.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CONCERNS

No community health concerns were identified through questioning of representatives of the Lake County Health Department, the US EPA, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The ISDH released this public health assessment for public comment on May 20, 1993. The public comment period lasted until June 21, 1993. No comments were received by the ISDH in this period. Additional comments and new information on the site will be considered by ISDH and ATSDR for future assessments of, or consultations on, the site.


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