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Ghost factories / USA TODAY Design

The soil at a forgotten lead factory site in a Chicago neighborhood is dangerously contaminated, putting the area's children and other residents at risk, according to records released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tests by EPA contractors of the vacant lot where Loewenthal Metals operated in the 1940s have found widespread lead contamination, and samples contained as much as 57 times the amount of lead the agency considers hazardous in bare soil where children play.

Because of the danger at the site, the EPA said it will begin the process to do a "time-critical" cleanup of the property, which is next to homes and down the street from Walsh Elementary School in the city's Pilsen neighborhood.

The EPA tested the site, at the request of Illinois regulators, in response to findings in USA TODAY's "Ghost Factories" investigation, which featured Loewenthal Metals in a series of reports last April. USA TODAY's tests of soil around the Loewenthal site found high levels of lead near factory property and in the yards of neighborhood homes.

The action in Chicago is the latest by federal and state regulators at dozens of sites nationwide in response to USA TODAY's series, which is online at ghostfactories.usatoday.com.

Properties adjacent to the Loewenthal site will have their soil tested to determine the extent of the lead contamination, the EPA said. The agency did not respond to questions Wednesday about when the off-site testing would begin or how far it would extend into the surrounding neighborhood if contamination is found on the adjacent properties.

It's also unclear how soon a cleanup of the former factory property will begin. The EPA's testing of the site was delayed in part because the agency had to obtain a court order to access the property. The agency said on its website that it needs to ask the property owner's permission to do the cleanup, but if it isn't given, the agency may have to go to court again.

State and federal environmental regulators did initial tests of the site in 2006 that also found dangerous levels of lead. Their report at that time noted that "the possibility of the exposure is high" because so many people walk by and on the property. The report was filed away without action until USA TODAY began asking questions in 2011, and the site remained unfenced until December.

The EPA's latest report on the site, dated Monday, notes that the contaminated property is in a residential area, that a community garden is nearby and a popular walking path and sidewalk border it. People and animals are at risk of exposure to the high levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants found on the site, the report says.

Lead is one of the greatest environmental threats to children, who are exposed when they ingest it, often by putting dust-covered hands or toys in their mouths. Regular exposure to even tiny particles of lead can cause lost intelligence, ADHD, behavior problems and other health issues.

For more information about the Loewenthal Metals site, including a video, details of USA TODAY's soil test results and a historical map showing the plant when it was in operation, go to: http://usat.ly/R5r4fK



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: EPA plans cleanup of lead danger in Chicago

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