By Michael Hawthorne

Almost every time federal officials test a yard in northwest Indiana, they find staggering levels of brain-damaging lead in the soil.

The latest toxic neighborhoods uncovered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are near an abandoned smelter that churned lead, arsenic and other heavy metals into the air during most of the last century. Soil samples collected since October have identified more than two dozen contaminated yards in Hammond and Whiting, and EPA officials expect to find more as they expand their investigation.

In a situation eerily similar to the lead-contamination crisis still unfolding in nearby East Chicago, authorities failed to test residential areas next to the former Federated Metals property for more than three decades, even though the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management designated it one of the region’s most toxic industrial sites in the mid-1980s.

Neighbors wonder why it took the federal agency so long to get involved. Based on interviews and a review of documents, the history of the shuttered Federated Metals smelter appears to have been all but forgotten until 2016, when career employees at the EPA’s Chicago office began digging through files on polluted sites in northwest Indiana that either haven’t been cleaned up or weren’t scoured thoroughly enough years ago.

“This is another example of the EPA and the state of Indiana dropping the ball time after time again,” said Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, who has not been involved in the Federated Metals case but represents citizens in other regional disputes.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Definition
Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Environmental Health
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Environmental Health
Energy and industrial processes introduce toxins into the environment. EPIC research is helping to educate policymakers and consumers on the social and economic costs of this pollution, and the potential...
Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
Definition
Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
The Abrams Environmental Law Clinic attempts to solve some of the most pressing environmental problems throughout Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Great Lakes region.