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Lead Contamination Could Slow Terre Haute Water Project

Debris in sewer water is filtered out. During a rain event above .25 inches, water flowing into the Wabash River receives no treatment.

It’s going to take time to clean up an old dump site in Terre Haute where inspectors found high levels of lead — but that could pose problems in the development of a water overflow construction project.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Terre Haute needs to keep storm water and sewage overflow from reaching the Wabash River. But the site the city acquired to help manage the problem has its own problems.

Three sewer lines run through a 39-acre site formerly owned by Sugar Creek Scrap, and EPA testing found the presence of lead well above federal regulatory levels. It turns out the site used to be an illegal industrial dump site.

“We have to build these as part of our combined sewer overflow system, and this location, there is no choice,” says city engineer Pat Martin. “It’s this location. It’s given the geography and orientation of all the sewer systems, it just so happens that this site happens to have toxic levels of lead.”

But Martin says the site must be cleaned up in time to meet the city’s tight timetable for constructing the EPA-mandated sewer control system. Construction needs to begin before the end of next year.

EPA on-scene coordinator Jason Sewell confirmed that the agency has decided to conduct the cleanup with EPA-approved contractors and federal dollars – for now.

“But any point in time, we’re able to bring in potential responsible parties to help us either perform the cleanup or to reimburse the agency once the cleanup’s completed,” says Sewell.

Sewell says the EPA is conducting an investigation into who’s responsible for the mess but isn’t ready to release any names.

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