A northwest Indiana birdwatcher found 18 dead swans in George Lake in Hammond, and six of their bodies had high levels of lead.
John Madeka likes to watch migrating birds at George Lake after he gets off work as an engineer at U.S. Steel Corporation. For the last three months, he says he's been finding dead mute swans whose bodies look completely untouched on the outside.
Madeka suspects it had to be something internal that killed the swans — perhaps contamination from the Federated Metals hazardous waste site nearby, settled at the bottom of the lake. He says that could explain why other birds weren't affected.
“The swans have the longest necks of all the water birds and therefore they’re feeding deeper — they feed deeper than the Canada geese and all the ducks,” Madeka says.
The Whiting Metals plant now operates out of the former Federated Metals site. State and federal agencies recently cited the plant for emitting twice the legal limit of lead.
Thomas Frank is part of the local environmental justice groups Calumet Lives Matter and Community Strategy Group. He says the fact that the Federated Metals site was cleaned up more than a decade ago makes the swans’ deaths particularly concerning.
“It brings into question the methods and practices of restoration here,” he says.
In a report compiled for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management last month, high levels of lead, arsenic and fluoride were found in groundwater at the Federated Metals site.
Sherry Hunter, president of Calumet Lives Matter, says the Whiting area has been contaminated for quite some time and that the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t doing enough to clean up these sites.
“What happened that they died? There’s something wrong," she says.
Because the swan's bodies were partially decomposed, IDEM says the state was unable to determine exactly what killed the swans. The agency says the birds tested negative for avian flu, botulism, and some other diseases.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources submitted the swans to a lab at Purdue University to be examined. IDEM says parasites could have been involved in the deaths, but neither the DNR nor IDEM clarified how.