News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 8, 2013

EPA tests find high levels of lead

Report on city land along Wabash details test findings

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As expected, environmental test results at a former dump site on Terre Haute’s southwest side show significant levels of lead in the surface soil.

The results show lead in the soil well above federal “regulatory levels” on the property, which is between the Wabash River and Indiana 63.

“You’re talking 10 times the regulatory level in three of the samples and three times to four times in the other two,” said Jason Sewell, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which commissioned the soil testing by Weston Solutions, Inc., an Ohio-based EPA contractor.

As part of the testing, soil samples were taken in about a dozen spots in a city-owned, 33-acre piece of property along the east bank of the Wabash River. More than half of the spots tested were found to not have contaminants above regulatory levels.

“Lead in the main concern,” Sewell told the Tribune-Star on Tuesday.

These official results come after preliminary reports hinted last month that lead would be the big problem at the site, on which the city hopes to build a small piece of its wastewater treatment system known as a “floatable control” structure.

Now that testing is complete, the next step is for the EPA is to determine how the lead got on the site and work with those “responsible parties” to clean it up, Sewell said. “That will be part of the ongoing investigation,” he said.

Locating responsible parties “goes back really as far as necessary to find those who contributed toward placement of hazardous substances on the property,” Sewell said. That is not always the most recent owner of the property but can sometimes go back further, he said.

In any case, the EPA hopes to have the site cleaned up in a year, Sewell noted. If additional problems crop up, the project could be placed into a “remedial” program, which can last longer than a year, he said.

Sewell had no immediate estimate for the cost of a clean up. If responsible parties are not identified or are unable to take part in the clean up, federal dollars would be used, he said.

As for the city’s planned construction, that does not necessarily need to be delayed, Sewell said. But if work were to take place, the city would need to implement monitoring procedures to ensure the safety of those working on the site, he said.

Mayor Duke Bennett, reached late Tuesday, said it is important the city’s floatable control project remain on its EPA-mandated schedule and not be delayed. If the city is required to pay for part of the clean up, it will be reimbursed by the EPA, he said.

“We’re going to be actively working to make sure everyone’s talking and to keep this thing moving along,” the mayor said.

In addition to lead, the EPA report states the site contains about 150 55-gallon drums, a large above-ground storage tank, slag, foundry sand and ash. There are also about 1,500 tires on the site, crushed cars and trucks, automotive parts, abandoned vehicles and other waste.

Investigators were unable to access the above-ground storage tank to determine its contents, according to the report.

In the “site history” section of the report, investigators write that the property had no listed use until the 1950s, when it was owned by Terre Haute Compressed Steel and Salvage, Inc. and has changed hands many times since then. The City of Terre Haute acquired the site at no charge last year from Sugar Creek Scrap, a West Terre Haute-based business.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or