Hammond wants to test odor that's sickened residents

Hammond officials want to test a petroleum odor that has caused throats to burn and eyes to water in Hammond and East Chicago over the past week.

Hammond is offering its summa canisters, which are used for air testing, to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in an effort to pinpoint the odor, Hammond Environmental Department Director Ron Novak told The (Munster) Times. Hammond hopes to trap samples of the odor in the canisters and send them to the department in Indianapolis.

"It's an issue that's central, that's affected the vast majority of people in multiple communities," Novak said.

City officials are concerned about public health because people have reported strong physical reactions such as burning lungs and chest pains.

The strong stench -- which has been compared to fertilizer, crude oil, rotten eggs, solvents and gasoline -- first surfaced last week in East Chicago and on Hammond's east side and returned Tuesday.

Novak believes he has identified the source of the smell as mercaptan, a petrochemical that's known for an extremely putrid odor, on a street in East Chicago.

By gathering data about the odor, officials will be able to determine what it is, where it's coming from and what health risks it could pose to the public.

"You could narrow your search since there are extensive lists of permits for handling raw materials and of the waste products they generate," Novak said. "You could really narrow it down to the type of industry you're looking for just going from the summa canisters and having it analyzed."

Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Barry Sneed said investigators were looking for the source of the stench but it's "like finding a needle in a haystack."


Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com