In the 1930s and '40s, the Beck’s Lake area on South Bend’s west side was used as an industrial dumping ground. The city acquired the land in 1959 and developed it into LaSalle Park, and the Charles Black Community Center was built some years later.
But that industrial history left behind contamination — the area eventually became the Beck’s Lake Superfund site — and recent soil samples found lead levels higher than Environmental Protection Agency’s safe limit of 400 parts per million.
On Feb. 22, the EPA announced a new agreement with the city of South Bend and Honeywell International to get the area cleaned up.
Matt Villicana is an on-scene coordinator with the EPA’s Region Five emergency response branch.
He said lead poisoning affects the whole body, but especially the nervous system. And children are at a higher risk for complications — exposure can cause developmental problems.
“We know the risk exists, so that’s why we’re going to come in and make sure it gets cleaned up,” Villicana said.
Contractors will be removing and replacing the top 2 feet of contaminated soil in the park and two nearby residential lots.
Villicana said agency data indicates the soil is likely safe below 2 feet — but a fabric barrier will be installed just in case.
If the soil is disturbed below 2 feet in the future, Villicana said city officials should be notified if it is on private property. In this case, that’s only the two residential lots.
At that time, the city would test the deeper soil to make sure it’s safe. And just like in the remediation, it would need to be disposed of and replaced with clean soil.
Contaminated soil samples were first collected from the residential lots in 2017 and 2018. But the site was given a clean bill of health by city officials, and an EPA report concluded that "there is no immediate risk from exposure to the soils in the sampled areas and no immediate clean-up is needed.”
Villicana said that’s because the contaminated soil was at least 6 inches deep.
“By immediate risk we didn’t think there was the need to get out there right away and start excavating out,” Villicana said. “We still recognized that we would have to address that. But we wanted to get more information.”
So, he says the EPA decided to do additional sampling in the rest of the park to get a full picture of the remediation work needed. That was completed in 2019.
“Now we’re going to get those two properties as well as the park cleaned up,” he said.
In a news release, South Bend Mayor James Mueller said the city is grateful for the partnership.
“After years of thorough investigation, we now have the way to ensure LaSalle Park remains a vibrant public space for our residents,” Mueller said in the release.
Work is expected to be completed by this fall.
A public information session about the remediation will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 in the Charles Black Community Center.
For more information about the Beck’s Lake Superfund site and to track the status of the cleanup, visit the EPA’s website.