East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland is calling on Gov. Mike Pence to declare a state of emergency in the city’s Calumet neighborhood. He made the decision after recently meeting with the residents of the lead-contaminated area.
East Chicago officials and residents learned from the Environmental Protection Agency about the contamination at the this past May. The housing complex is just north of a former U.S. Steel lead smelting plant, on top of a smaller operation, in an area that was designated a Superfund site in 2009.
In July, Copeland wrote to EPA officials criticizing them for not informing city officials regarding efforts to address the problem.
“I feel it is important to provide you with a timeline of events from the City’s perspective. It is crucial for you as a leader to understand the City’s concern over the public health crisis, which exists in the West Calumet Housing Complex, and our alarm that Region 5 is on course to take action in the very near term which will only exacerbate this public crisis. While it appears that Region 5 wants to show that they are doing something to address the obvious danger to public health posed by extraordinarily high levels of lead and arsenic in the soils in Zone 1, their actions, to date, amount to nothing more than Band-Aid solutions,” stated Copeland in his letter EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Copland later decided to close the complex and relocate the 1,000 residents living there. Since then, EPA began remediation of the site this fall.
In his letter to Pence, Copeland stated that the city, his staff and other officials have labored under conditions—which are not of their making—“but cry out for our help.”
After seeing Pence visiting Flint, MI and Baton Rouge, LA during the presidential campaign, residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex questioned why Pence or anyone from his office had not visited the site. When asked why the governor had not taken time to address the issue, a spokesperson from his office said that he had directed his staff and cabinet to provide support from the federal government.
“I am sure that as governor, you do not find it acceptable that Hoosier children be exposed to toxins or suffer the life-long burden(s) which are known to result from such exposure. I am sure that you do not find it acceptable that these children’s families suffer the long-term economic devastation of blight caused by environmental problems which these hard-working Hoosier families did not cause,” Copeland said in his letter.
The governor’s office indicated that they have received the request and it is being reviewed.
Meanwhile, Copland announced that the EPA informed the city that the concentration of lead in the water in the Calumet neighborhood exceeds acceptable levels. He said residents would be receiving the results of the EPA water testing by the end of the week.