Pollution control underway

By Vanessa Morton

H. Kramer & Co., a local brass and bronze smelter, has found itself in hot water after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a complaint against it.

The company agreed to a preliminary injunction which requires it to immediately reduce lead emissions from its plant, according to the Attorney General’s Office. In compliance, H. Kramer is accountable for replacing existing pollution control equipment with new state-of-the-art technology, hiring an outside engineering expert to conduct ventilation studies, as well as staying in communication with Madigan’s office and state and federal environmental authorities.

The legal action came at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency after air monitoring data concluded that the H. Kramer plant, 1345 W. 21st St., was the leading source of the high level of lead emissions discovered near public schools in April 2010.

“The emissions coming from the H. Kramer facility pose serious health risks to the surrounding community,” Madigan said in a statement. “Today’s agreement requires H. Kramer officials to make immediate changes to reduce harmful pollution levels. My office will continue to work with state and federal environmental authorities to protect the community’s health and safety.”

IEPA installed two air monitors on top of Perez Elementary School, 1241 W. 19th St., and another at nearby Benito Juarez Community Academy, 2150 S. Laflin St., in attempt to determine the main source of the high lead emissions.

At the time, collected monitoring data showed that during a three-month period in 2010, the average lead levels were at or above 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which is the safety limit set by the U.S. government.

As previously reported in The Chronicle on April 11, IEPA had been in the process of trying to find possible polluters, and through a continuous process of air sampling and monitoring, IEPA assembled enough information to refer the matter to the Illinois Attorney General.

According to Brad Frost, IEPA’s community relations coordinator, the setup of both air monitors helped triangulate where the emissions came from based on wind direction.

Frost said both monitors would pick up higher hits whenever the wind blew from the direction of H. Kramer.

“When the wind came from Kramer’s direction, we were clearly getting higher numbers,” he said. “So it was really that second monitor we installed that gave us the confidence to make the referral to the attorney general.”

However, as of now, it is unclear if H. Kramer is the only source in the Pilsen area. Both IEPA and the Attorney General’s Office were unable to comment.

But local activist Jerry Mead-Lucero, founding member of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, believes otherwise. While he said it’s clear the state is trying to go after Kramer, he still isn’t certain there’s only one source emitting the high concentration of pollution.

“We’re still not 100 percent convinced that Kramer is the only problem,” Lucero said. “We still want the IEPA to look into other possible sources of lead contamination in the community as well.”

As to where the status of the lead concentration currently stands, Frost said IEPA has not received the three-month average that would determine if the levels have increased or decreased. IEPA will continue to monitor the air quality, making sure the standard of lead levels isn’t exceeded.

“We are going to continue to take sampling and work with the attorney general on the current case,” Frost said. “And whatever comes out of that, such as clean up or installing pollution control, there will be some action that we’ll have to take.”