The Crusader Newspaper Group

EPA to remove toxic soil at East Chicago complex

Crusader Staff Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to remove two feet of contaminated soil at the former site of the West Calumet housing complex.

Estimated to cost $26 million, the cleanup project would involve removing 160,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil on a site that was once occupied by a lead-products factory, decades ago.

EPA officials said digging restrictions and other controls would be instituted to protect future site users from unacceptable risks related to exposure to remaining contaminated soil. Because some contaminated soil would be left in place, EPA would conduct five-year reviews of the cleanup as required by the Superfund law.

On Monday, November 12, EPA began a 60-day public comment period on the proposed cleanup plan. EPA conducted a feasibility study to evaluate cleanup options based on the City of East Chicago’s stated intention to zone this parcel of land for residential use.

More than 1,000 tenants were forced to leave the complex after 2016 tests found high lead levels in blood samples from some children. The majority of the tenants were Black and struggled for months to find alternative housing after they were told to evacuate the complex.

Community groups demanded then Governor Mike Pence declare the EPA Superfund site an emergency disaster zone to bring additional resources to help address the crisis. But Pence denied the city’s request before he left office to campaign as a vice presidential candidate with Donald Trump. Pence’s successor, Governor Eric Holcomb eventually issued the declaration.

Local, state and federal levels of government together secured $2 million in state grant dollars to eventually demolish the West Calumet Housing Complex.

Mayor Anthony Copeland told EPA officials of his plans to seek commercial or industrial development for the site but advocates for former West Calumet residents said a new housing complex should be built there once the soil is fully free of contamination.

Earlier this year, the EPA asked a federal judge for access to nine East Chicago properties at the U.S.S. Lead Superfund site that haven’t been checked for lead or arsenic.

In court filings, the EPA said it believes that the nine unsampled properties “may be contaminated with lead or arsenic at levels that may pose a threat to human health and the environments.”

EPA officials in court documents said at three properties, the owners refused to grant them access. According to court documents, two owners were non-responsive and four properties were listed as abandoned and the owners could not be contacted.

With concerns that hazardous substances could be at other properties, EPA officials argued that they had a “reasonable basis” to seek court-ordered access. EPA officials said the only way to confirm that the soil was contaminated at the nine properties was to test them.

“EPA seeks access only to the outside areas of the nine unsampled properties and only to collect soil samples,” the EPA said, in court filings. “The collection at each property is expected to take under four hours and will not interfere with a resident’s use of their home.”

Recent News

Scroll to Top