Toxic soil in East Chicago causes residents to vacate

By: Max Bruns ~Staff Writer~

Anthony Copeland, mayor of East Chicago, Ind., announced in July that the residents of West Calumet Housing Complex in Indiana must evacuate becasue of high levels of toxic lead in the soil.

This was just three months after the Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) received word that the area’s soil had become highly toxic, according to the EPA’s acting regional administrator for the Great Lakes region Robert A. Kaplan.

Kaplan said that in 2008, as the EPA sought Superfund status for the Lead Refinery Smelting Plant in the area, tests identified some “hot spots” in the soil in and around the Calumet neighborhood.

That year, and again in 2011, the EPA removed soil from the hot spots, and by 2009 they were suing companies responsible for damaging the soil, according to Kaplan. The EPA did not receive confirmation of extensive testing on which soil needed to be removed.

Contaminated soil sites were failed to be reported to the EPA again in November of 2014 and were not reported on until may of this year, Kaplan said.

Kaplan reported that warnings of the danger had been publicized for almost a decade prior to the final report but were deemed non-urgent by a 2011 federal assessment of the Superfund site.

Now, in an Aug. 3 meeting led by Mayor Copeland, the situation is being handled with more urgency.

“I cannot multiply this enough times, to tell you the irreparable damage that can happen to your child. I do not see how you can remove tons and tons of dirt and not aggravate the problem,” Copeland said.

He proceeded to tell the residents of the Calumet complex that he was seeking to destroy it.

According to the New York Times, $1.9 million in funding from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has been provided to the East Chicago Housing Authority for the relocation of West Calumet residents. However, many residents are unable to relocate, despite the funds, because initial asking deposits from new complexes are too high.

Copeland said “hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.” Lead posioning can have sever effects on childhood development.

As a result of the lead in the soil surrounding the neighborhood, West Calumet Housing Complex is now scheduled to be demolished, leaving residents with no other option but to relocate.