MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — The state Department of Environmental Management has renewed a central Indiana lead plant's operating permit for another five years after declining to hold a public hearing.

The department said a hearing wasn't needed because it had answered all of the comments it received during a public comment period.

The department's decision spurred a protest by nearly 30 residents Sunday in front of Exide Technologies' plant in Muncie, where millions of lead-acid auto, truck, boat and other batteries are recycled annually, the Star Press reported.

James Rybarczyk, an associate chemistry professor at Ball State University, met with the protesters before the rally. He said soil around the plant has been tested before, adding the tests showed high lead levels.

"We have done some preliminary work looking at soils around here," Rybarczyk said. "And when the CR3 (massive tire) fire happened back in 2007, the state brought in outside experts to sample the soil, and they did find high lead levels as a secondary thing. They were more interested in what came off the CR3 tire fire, but in the process, they analyzed the soil and there were high lead levels around the Exide facility."

Now, the demonstrators seek an independent sampling of air, soil and ground water at the plant and nearby neighborhoods.

"There needs to be a lot more research and a lot more sampling of the soils around the area," said Rybarczyk.

Residents are also requesting that their blood be tested for elevated levels of lead.

"We have many people in the neighborhood who have health problems," Connie Thomas said. "We don't know if it's connected."

Residents from Breezwood Addition expressed concerns about lead leaching into their drinking water. The addition doesn't have a community water system, it has private water wells.

The residents are demanding that Exide invest in better technology to control lead emissions.

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Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com