PILSEN — High levels of lead have been found in the soil of an alley adjacent to H. Kramer, a smelting factory that recently agreed to spend millions on pollution controls at its Pilsen operations, officials said.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said Tuesday that officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told him that testing done in December in an alley near the factory at 1345 W. 21st St. found high levels of the dangerous contaminant.
He warned residents to avoid the area due to the potentially damaging pollutants.
"The EPA sampling is part of an assessment to determine if lead and other metals may have settled on the soil from industrial activity over the years and pose an unacceptable health risk to people who live in the area," Solis said. " The initial sampling indicates high levels of lead in the soil of that particular alley."
The alley that was tested connects Loomis and Throop streets, between 21st Street and Cermak Road, Solis said. The alderman advised all residents to avoid walking in the area.
“We are looking at a number of options to protect the children and families of the neighborhood from any potential contaminants," Solis said. "Safety is my No. 1 priority, and I want to work with all of the stakeholders to ensure that we are doing everything we can to remedy any potential threats.”
Officials with H. Kramer did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week, H. Kramer agreed to a settlement with the State of Illinois that requires the company to spend $3 million on new pollution controls, pay a $35,000 fine and invest $40,000 in making area school buses more environmentally friendly.
Solis and representatives from the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization met with the EPA Tuesday. Solis announced afterward that he was forming a Community Outreach Partnership "to address the environmental and health concerns of lead contamination."
Solis said the groups will reach out to residents and business owners about conducting additional soil sampling on different properties in Pilsen.
Part of the reason for the testing is to see if there is a link to H. Kramer's operations, said Stacy Raker, a Solis spokeswoman. As of now, no direct link has been established, she said.
EPA officials said lead often is found around industrial properties.
The agency has identified an area about a quarter-mile around H. Kramer where it plans to collect soil samples, EPA spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said. In addition, the EPA has requested access to the railroad tracks next door to the plant.
Results from the testing can take four to eight weeks, Cannon said.
"Until EPA has the sample results it cannot speculate on the contaminants that might be found in the samples or which facilities might be potential sources," Cannon said. "EPA will evaluate the data to try to determine the source of contamination."
Dorian Breuer, a representative from PERRO, said his organization had hoped H. Kramer would also agree to a proposal to test for lead in the windows of public buildings in Pilsen. While the EPA endorsed PERRO’s proposal, H. Kramer refused to agree to the proposal’s terms, he said.
“We're not sure why that would be, but we’re disappointed,” Breuer said of H. Kramer’s refusal.
Instead, H. Kramer will invest $40,000 to reduce diesel fuel emissions from school buses in the area.
In September 2005, through an Illinois EPA program, H. Kramer volunteered to test its property for unsafe lead levels and take steps to make the property safer, the adminstration said. The factory did find unsafe lead levels on its property and took steps approved by the EPA, the agency said. That effort was completed last March.