The Northwestern Smelting and Refining plant, circa 1940 (Minnesota Historical Society, via USA Today)

The old Northwestern Smelting and Refining plant, 2523 Hiawatha (Minnesota Historical Society, via USA Today)

Ten years ago, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said it couldn't find any evidence of an old lead smelter on Hiawatha Avenue. Yet USA Today reporter Alison Young found it, in old photographs and maps, and used the example of the long-gone Northwestern Smelting and Refining plant to bolster her case that the government has failed to deal with the public health menace posed by former smelting sites nationwide. The "Ghost Factories" investigative report features results of the newspaper's own soil tests around the sites, as well as an interactive map. In the case of the former smelter site in Minneapolis, at 2523 Hiawatha Avenue South, the soil tests revealed some lead levels in nearby yards that were moderately higher than the EPA considers safe. But it's difficult to say that contamination came from the old smelter. The report also notes that many yards in the neighborhood were dug up and replaced because of another nasty kind of contamination: arsenic that had wafted off the grounds of a pesticide factory

The database set up by USA Today features original documents, photos and videos on each site. The section for the Minneapolis site includes an interview with nearby resident Carrie Anne Johnson, complete with background music.