Dead Swans In Hammond Found To Contain High Levels Of Lead

Mike Krauser
December 14, 2018 - 11:34 am

HAMMOND, IND. (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Indiana environmental agencies are conducting an investigation after dead mute swans were found along the shores of George Lake, between Hammond and Whiting, where toxic metals have contaminated soil. 

John Madeka, a birdwatcher who lives close to the lake, said he has witnessed decades of migrations at the lake and called it a special spot. He found the first dead mute swan in October. Since then, he has counted 18 dead mute swans since then.

"It's extremely disturbing," Madeka said. 

Madeka said in 45 years he has never seen anything like the trend of deaths, adding that many swans were young.

On Thursday, Madeka received an email saying Indiana Department of Natural Resources lab at Purdue University in West Lafayette, who investigated the incident, had discovered elevated lead levels in the kidneys of six birds, some to toxic levels. Tests for avian influenza, botulism and other toxins were negative, the email said.

“The tests just came back yesterday that the birds had elevated lead contents in their kidneys and systems," Madeka said. "There were no other signs of any diseases, so it was lead poisoning, basically.”  

There are dead swans on the mostly-frozen surface of the lake, and across from it are Whiting Metals, which were recently cited for elevated levels of lead, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Management. The NAAQS for lead and its compounds are 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), averaged over a 3-month period. Based on the most recent data collected at IDEM’s monitor, the three-month average lead concentration at the monitor reached 0.31 μg/m3 for the period of August through October 2018, according to the EPA. 

Earlier this year, Whiting Metals took over the site of Federated metals, in operation for fifty years. The EPA has been removing lead-tainted soil from homes in the area. 

“So now it’s gotten into the water and these birds are being affected and It’s really disturbing. I can’t even tell you how disturbed I am about the whole deal,” Madeka said. He suggested the dead swans are like a canary in a coal mine.    

The DNR, EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management are all involved in the investigation of the dead swans.

Mute swans have longer necks than trumpeter and tundra swans. They also tend to remain year-round, unlike other migrating swans. Mute swans mainly eat aquatic vegetation, along with some animal prey including frogs, tadpoles, fish, snails, mollusks and insects. Their populations increased between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.