PILSEN — The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will soon start to remove contaminated soil at a community garden site near the old Lowenthal smelting factory.
At a community meeting Wednesday, Jerry Mead-Lucero, of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization said he spoke to an EPA spokesperson Tuesday who confirmed a target date of June 24 to begin the soil removal process.
Back in December, dangerous lead levels nearing 26,000 parts per million were found at the site near 21st and Sangamon streets, which borders the GrowingStation community garden.
Since learning of the soil contamination, Sallie Gordon, head gardener for the GrowingStation, said the garden’s beds have been reduced from 25 to just 11.
Gordon said those gardeners whose space was affected by the contamination are now planting in smaller, above-ground containers.
“This is going to be a really great thing for the neighborhood. It’s long overdue,” she said of the cleanup.
But Mead-Lucero remains concerned, and said the group has yet to see a community safety plan for the soil removal. Removing the soil can be a messy process and the close proximity to the garden means the chances of contamination are higher, he said.
On top of that, the Illinois EPA has yet to test a strip of land that runs along railroad tracks near the garden, as BNSF Railroad has not yet approved testing there, according to Mead-Lucero.
In April, Illinois EPA spokesman Steven Faryan said the "very high lead levels" found nearby "could present a public health threat" if not promptly treated.