West Calumet residents opt to relocate despite EPA’s promises

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THE EPA HAS posted this sign throughout the complex to discourage children from coming in contact with the soil. (Photos by Ruth Needleman)

There are 1,100 residents living in the West Calumet Housing complex. The children living there number 670 who can no longer play outside in, near or around the soil because lead levels have become a growing concern by the parents.

The housing development is located in East Chicago, Indiana and it is occupied predominately by African Americans.

As residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex were dealing with the knowledge that the soil outside their homes contained staggering levels of lead, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland announced last month that resident had to move out of the complex and that it would be demolished.

RESIDENTS OF THE West Calumet Housing Complex attended a town hall meeting sponsored by EPA and HUD to get information regarding the remediation and relocation process for the residents. The meeting was held Tues., Aug. 30 at Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago, IN.
RESIDENTS OF THE West Calumet Housing Complex attended a town hall meeting sponsored by EPA and HUD to get information regarding the remediation and relocation process for the residents. The meeting was held Tues., Aug. 30 at Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago, IN.

The area of the complex is said to be located north of a U. S. Steel Lead smelting plant and near a former smaller smelting operation that was designated as a Superfund site in 2009. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural dis asters.

This includes efforts to protect public health and the environment, with a focus on making a visible and lasting difference in communities, ensuring that people can live and work in healthy, vibrant places.

While residents begin the process of relocating and rebuilding the lives of their families, they are asking why they were not informed that the level of top soil in their yards contained up to 30 times more lead than the level safe for children. They also want to know why the state and other government agencies were slow in addressing the problem.

Copeland questioned why government agencies, specifically, EPA were slow in addressing the problem and accused the agency of withholding information regarding the levels of lead and arsenic contamination in the soil.

He accused the agency of being aware for more than a decade “of the unprecedented high levels of lead contamination in the soil, the EPA neither performed nor requested testing of residents’ blood (lead) levels,” Copeland stated in a letter sent to EPA officials in July.

According to Copeland after city officials became aware of the high level of lead in the soil in May 2016, the city immediately began testing. That preliminary test revealed hundreds of children are suffering from excessive lead in their blood.

RESIDENTS WORE T-SHIRTS to show their concern for the lack of timely response by government officials.
RESIDENTS WORE T-SHIRTS to show their concern for the lack of timely response by government officials.

Responding to Copeland’s letter EPA Acting Regional 5 Administrator Robert Kaplan said he understood the mayor’s concern regarding when EPA shared soil test results for the USS Lead Superfund sites. Kaplan went on to assure Copeland that he is “committed to more effectively sharing information with you moving forward to constructively and collaboratively address environmental and public health issues at the site.”

Recently, Copeland acknowledged that since initially contacting the EPA communications between city, state and federal agencies have improved.

Earlier this week, EPA officials announced that the cleanup of the site would take place without residents having to be relocated. It is estimated the remediation will begin in September or October of this year.

Meanwhile, HUD is continuing to process vouchers for residents seeking to be relocated. The agency began making the vouchers available in August and residents were able to start using them at the beginning of September. HUD initially released $1.9 million for the relocation effort and is seeking and additional $1.2 million in assistance for the process.

A meeting was also held this week between the EPA, HUD and the residents to address concerns and deal with complaints regarding the cleanup and the relocation.

 

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