By David Denson, Gary Crusader
State Senator Frank Mrvan has introduced a bill in the Indiana Senate that would provide $2.5 million in disaster relief funds for residents in the Calumet Housing complex in East Chicago.
Hundreds of residents have been in limbo since high deposits of lead was found in the soil underneath the East Chicago complex in May 2016. While some have moved out, a large number of the 1,000 residents still live in the complex after learning they have nowhere to go. Many residents are families with children.
Several elected officials are supporting the request for disaster relief including U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky.
Following President Donald Trump’s shake up of the EPA, Visclosky and Senator Joe Donnelly sent Trump a letter seeking information regarding how the changes at the agency would affect the East Chicago clean-up project.
Visclosky said he had concerns about how the EPA was dealing with the issue prior to Trump taking office. He said he had asked EPA to look into the causes of the lead in the water and to find resources to take corrective action along with testing the neighbors of people whose water tested positive of contaminants.
EPA officials assured residents that the clean–up efforts will continue despite the presidential transition. Since taking office there has been a number of changes at the agency including the suspension of new projects.
However, residents were told during a meeting held last Saturday that there won’t be any changes in the Superfund program and that the Calumet neighborhood clean-up fund will not be affected.
Mrvan’s bill is in the Senate Appropriation Committee. If passed, it would take money from the Department of Homeland Security and disburse it to eligible agencies dealing with lead arsenic contamination in East Chicago. The legislation would make $2.5 million available to East Chicago for two years.
During December of 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency stopped Superfund remediation when it found that 18 of the 43 homes that were tested exceeded 15 parts per billion of lead, which is the agency’s threshold for water safety. Water tested during the remediation was done to see if the evacuation had any effect on the lead service lines in the neighborhood.
EPA sampled the soil from 494 of the 596 homes for lead and officials said they plan to do more testing in 2017.
Efforts to address the problems in the Calumet Housing Development continue despite a failed request to get help from the state.
Prior to leaving office, former Governor Mike Pence turned down a request from East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland for disaster assistance.
In refusing Copeland’s request, Pence said that the state and federal agencies were doing enough to address the problem and he saw no need for disaster assistance. “Given the level of coordination among federal, state and local agencies, the state resources provided to date and the resources provided under the federal Superfund program, the issues described within your letter are being addressed without the need for disaster emergency declaration,” said Pence in his reply to Copeland.
Copeland has sent a similar request to Gov. Eric Holcomb and according to a spokesperson in the governor’s office, it will be addressed at a later time.