Hammond Group welcomes soil testing around lead oxide plant

Hammond Group president and CEO Terry Murphy (pictured) has welcomed the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s routine investigation to test soil in a residential area near the company’s plant in Hammond this year.

“We’re the last people that want to put lead in the environment,” he was reported by a local newspaper as saying. “We want to put it in batteries! So we welcome all and any testing to make sure it’s not there.”

The IDEM began testing all known lead sites in the state in 2015, and these included a former USS site two miles away from the Hammond site on 165th Street. It has announced it will test near the Hammond site this year.

“As there are several sites in Hammond and nearby cities, we would expect IDEM to develop a comprehensive area testing plan. Apart from IDEM publishing its plan, HGI would have no reasonable expectation to be personally notified — and we weren’t,” Murphy told BESB.

The plant has transformed refined lead metal into lead oxides since 1930, Murphy said.

“Lead oxides serve several vital markets, the most important being car-starting batteries and large stationary batteries that provide emergency power for telephones, mobile phone cell towers and emergency call centres.”

In 1985, a report by the Environmental Protection Agency named four areas in the state as having soil contamination, including the site owned by Hammond, then known as Hammond Lead. One sample point near Hammond Lead tested as 2,900 parts per million, according to the report, while others tested between 30ppm and 630 ppm.

The other three sites were a Federated Metals facility, an area near the Whiting refinery and the USS Lead facility in East Chicago, which is two miles from the Hammond site.

“HGI was not responsible for the contamination or clean-up,” Murphy told BESB. “For us to say more would be speculative; that said, it is important to point out that HGI operates at measured air emissions equal to a small fraction of what is allowed as permitted and enforced by a variety of government agencies, including IDEM.”

IDEM approved modifications to the company’s air permit on December 8, saying the levels of lead air emissions were low.

“In thinking about the general issue, we would like to point out that both government and industry accept computer lead-in-air modelling that shows lead, as one of nature’s heaviest elements, falls to the ground at or very near its source,” Murphy told BESB.

“And this science bears directly on the lead-in-soil issue. The overwhelming cause of lead-contaminated soil is decades of cars burning leaded gasoline, a product banned in the 1970s. Accordingly, we would expect that well designed, comprehensive soil-sampling will find measurable amounts of lead virtually everywhere and with the highest concentrations typically at traffic intersections and along heavily travelled roads — in residential neighbourhoods and commercial areas alike.”