Cleanup of Lead Contaminated Yards Begins in Pilsen

Work began this week and is scheduled to continue throughout the summer, digging two feet down in more than 100 Pilsen neighborhood yards

As the weather warms up, many Chicago residents will go outside to spend time in their yards. But for hundreds of people in the Pilsen neighborhood, that’s now dangerous. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the cleanup of lead-contaminated soil in dozens of residential yards in the Lower West Side neighborhood. 

Cleanup consists of excavating contaminated dirt in the yards and gardens of homes in the residential area referred to as “Operable Unit 2” of the Pilsen Area Soils site, according to the EPA. 

Contaminated soil will then be disposed of at a permitted disposal facility, EPA officials said, and yards will be filled with clean soil and restored to as close to their original condition as possible. 

EPA employee Ramon Mendoza is in charge of the project. 

“The basic solution into this particular yard is to excavate down and replace it with clean soil,” he told NBC 5 at one of the cleanup sites Thursday. 

The agency was first alerted of the lead in 2004 by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization. 

“The process was a long process,” said PERRO organizer Rose Gomez. “It was at least a 10-year battle.” 

Contractors from H. Kramer & Company are conducting the work in compliance with a unilateral order issued to the manufacturer in September 2016 to clean up the toxin from at least 54 residential yards in the target area. 

“A lot of folks were complaining about emissions and dust from the foundry,” Mendoza said.

Open since 1888, the H. Kramer & Co. foundry is one of several that pumped lead into the air for decades. The company didn’t return NBC 5’s request for a comment. 

Work began this week and is scheduled to continue throughout the summer. 

“We’ve identified a specific area that we should be responsible for and we’re going along that path,” Mendoza said. 

The path consists of 128 homes across three square blocks: [[420743043, C]] 

When NBC 5 showed neighbors the EPA’s map of the area, most were surprised. 

“It’s a bit of a shock,” said Pilson resident Nicole Benavidez. “I mean, to move over here and find this out, I kind of wish I would have stayed where I was at.” 

Residents living within the EPA’s Pilsen Area Soils site are urged to complete an access agreement allowing the agency to sample their property for soil lead and find out if a cleanup is needed. 

EPA officials say H. Kramer & Co. is no longer putting lead in the air, and will pay at least$1 million to clean up the first 54 yards.

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