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Pilsen lead pollution cleanup to get $2 million from city of Chicago, longtime polluter, BNSF Railway

City Hall, H. Kramer & Co. and the railroad agreed to reimburse the EPA after the federal government removed the toxic metal from soil at homes.

H. Kramer & Co., the operator of a brass and bronze foundry at 1345 W. 21st St., entered into an earlier settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce air pollution.
Sun-Times files

The city of Chicago, a railroad company and a longtime polluter in Pilsen — responsible for contaminating the soil of nearby homes with toxic levels of lead — have agreed to pay the federal government nearly $2 million for costs of a years-long cleanup.

H. Kramer & Co., the operator of a brass and bronze foundry at 1345 W. 21st St., entered into an earlier settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 promising to reduce air pollution by installing new internal controls. The agreement came after federal and state officials accused the company of polluting the air with dangerous levels of the toxic metal.

Lead is quickly absorbed into a person’s bloodstream. Even small amounts can lead to brain damage and harm to other vital organs.

EPA said this week that Kramer, the city and BNSF Railway, which owns land in the area, are paying $1.95 million as the responsible parties for a soil cleanup that took place from 2015 to 2018.

The environmental agency removed lead from dirt at dozens of nearby homes around H. Kramer and from adjacent land owned by the city and BNSF.

EPA said the money will be placed in a fund that can be used to perform further environmental cleanup in Pilsen or elsewhere in the city.

The agreement, filed in federal court in Chicago, is subject to a 30-day public comment period.

Exterior of H. Kramer & Co.
Sun-Times file

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who represents Pilsen, said he is asking for a meeting with city officials to determine whether the money can be used for environmental programs in his ward, which is home to other polluting businesses such as Sims Metal Management. Sims also has been the target of recent state and federal environmental enforcement actions.

“We need to have a conversation — not only about remediation but over future planning in Pilsen,” he said.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency will consult with both state and city officials on whether additional action is needed to clean up Pilsen.

Representatives from H. Kramer and BNSF did not respond to requests for comment. City officials also did not respond.

The EPA accused H. Kramer in late 2011 of polluting the air with excessive amounts of lead.

In the 2013 settlement, H. Kramer agreed to spend $3 million to install air pollution controls, consented to paying $35,000 in penalties to state and federal governments, and said it would spend another $40,000 for pollution controls for school buses serving the area.

H. Kramer is less than a mile from both Perez Elementary and Benito Juarez High School.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.