WHITING, Ind. (WLS) -- High levels of lead were found in neighborhoods in Whiting and Hammond after the EPA tested more than 80 properties that sit next to the now-shuttered Federated Metals, which closed more than 40 years ago, officials said Tuesday.
Next week, the EPA will begin clean-up at five properties with elevated levels of lead. On May 23, a public meeting will be held for Whiting and Hammond residents.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to test hundreds more properties near the old metals facility. EPA officials could not comment on why the agency did not do routine testing after the factory closed.
Sam Borries, of the EPA Region 5, said their biggest concern is for properties "at or above 1200 ppm of contamination" that also has "sensitive population living on property," which includes children under age 7 or pregnant women.
"PRISONER IN OUR OWN HOME"
Kerry and Keith Branham's home in Whiting has more than four times that level, reading 1,860 ppm. The EPA's acceptable level of lead in soil is 400 ppm. The soil is so contaminated, the EPA told them to stay off of it.
When they moved into their home, they had no idea there was danger.
"They have pretty much made us a prisoner in our own home, they want our friends to take their shoes off, telling me to mop the floor twice a week, make sure there is no dust, be careful when you are doing yardwork. It's changed everything," said Kerry Branham.
Officials tested the Branham's soil months ago and test results came back in January.
"We want to sell our home. What are we gonna to do? They knew about this. Do something about it," Keith Branham said.
The EPA is warning the Branham's not to work or spend time in their yard or wear their shoes indoors.
"We had a garden for the entire time we lived here we had vegetables we got out of the garden we shared it with the neighbors so we've been eating this, as well, and when I mentioned that to the EPA they really just said, 'Well, stop doing that,'" Kerry Branham said.
The EPA said their work is just the beginning, which is a frightening prospect for Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura.
"I'm worried we don't the level and scope of the contamination yet," Stahura said.
The discovery of lead contamination in Whiting and Hammond follows the lead crisis in nearby East Chicago where crews are demolishing the West Chicago Housing Complex after hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate.
"I think the state and federal environmental officials have been dropping the ball consistently here, they don't go looking for these problems, even though they know they exist," said Mark Templeton, an environmental law professor at the University of Chicago.
As a result, Templeton said the residents are the ones bearing the health burden.