EPA cites Indiana factory for toxic lead

A northwestern Indiana factory has repeatedly violated federal health standards by releasing alarmingly high concentrations of airborne lead in two cities that are already facing a problem with lead-contaminated soil, according to federal and state environmental officials.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management accused Whiting Metals of the violations Thursday, based on three months of air quality testing in Hammond and Whiting.

Air monitors installed near the company's Whiting factory found average lead levels in the air between August and October that were more than twice the legal limit of 0.15 parts per billion, The Chicago Tribune reported. Lead concentrations spiked to 1,200 times higher on several days when winds blew pollution toward the monitoring equipment.

Whiting Metals officials didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's request for comment.

The discovery comes less than a year after Indiana officials renewed the company's air pollution permit, despite concerns from residents.

Any amount of lead is unsafe, according to the EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ingesting small amounts can cause brain damage in children and contribute to heart disease, kidney failure and other health issues in adults.

Regulators are also working to remove soil tainted with the brain-damaging metal from dozens of properties in Hammond and Whiting. The contamination was discovered last year and is linked to Federated Metals, which was the original occupant of the Whiting Metals site, according to the EPA. The smelter operated at the location from 1937 to 1983.

The EPA has excavated soil from 25 properties where lead levels were three times the federal limit. Soil samples from another 229 properties are still being analyzed.

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