Toxic lead may be to blame for swan deaths at NW Indiana lake

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HAMMOND, Ind. — Swans are dying on a lake in northwest Indiana, and environmental officials say high lead levels could be to blame.

It was local birdwatcher John Madeka who first noticed something wrong at George Lake in Hammond, Indiana.

He discovered 18 swan carcasses this fall and contacted Indiana wildlife experts, who then sent the birds to the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University for testing.

“In all, six birds that they examined there were high levels of lead,” Madeka said. “Two or three had toxic levels. It definitely is pointing toward lead being the culprit. … The first question I have is: How is the lead getting in the water?”

All signs point to the northeast corner of the lake and the former Federated Metals plant — operating now as Whiting Metals. The plant was cited by the EPA last month for exceeding lead emissions.

“Something needs to be done to clean this up to protect the wildlife, to protect the people that live in this area,” resident Marisa Rowden said.

Rowden is concerned about the harmful effect of pollution on the people who live near the lake — and said those dead swans are sending an important message.

“It’s pretty much an indicator that if you have wildlife that are succumbing to these poisons, we’re the next in line,” Rowden said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is investigating the swan deaths. The agency has not yet been able to determine a cause of death, citing the partial decomposition of the swan carcasses it examined. All six swans tested had heightened levels of lead in their systems.

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