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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Environment - East Chicago lead contamination crisis now national story

The ILB has had three posts so far on, to quote the NWI Times, the "alarming lead levels in the soil of a low-income East Chicago neighborhood. Today Abby Goodnough of the NY Times has a long-story that appears on the front-page of this morning's issue, headed "1,100 in Indiana, Their Soil Toxic, Are Uprooted.." A few quotes from the lengthy story:

Ms. King and other residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex here learned recently that much of the soil outside their homes contained staggering levels of lead, one of the worst threats to children’s health. * * *

The extent of the contamination came as a shock to residents of the complex, even though it is just north of a huge former U.S.S. Lead smelting plant and on top of a smaller former smelting operation, in an area that was designated a Superfund site in 2009. Now, in a situation that many fearful residents are comparing to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., they are asking why neither the state nor the Environmental Protection Agency told them just how toxic their soil was much sooner, and a timeline is emerging that suggests a painfully slow government process of confronting the problem. * * *

But the most pressing question for residents is why they were not informed until last month that even the top six inches of soil in their yards had up to 30 times more lead than the level considered safe for children to play in, and that it also had hazardous levels of arsenic. Farther down, the contamination is much worse. * * *

The E.P.A. began suing the companies responsible for the contamination in 2009, and by 2012 had a cleanup plan that involved removing all lead- and arsenic-contaminated soil from the housing complex.

Extensive testing to figure out which soil needed to be removed did not begin until November 2014, Mr. Kaplan said. And the E.P.A. did not receive the final results showing “exactly where” the contamination was, he said, until this May. The delay, he said, was due to problems with the contractor the agency hired to tabulate the data and concerns about the data’s quality.

“Our first priority after that was making sure every resident knew not to dig, not to be in contact with the soil,” Mr. Kaplan said. Since early June, he said, the E.P.A. has been covering bare soil in the complex with mulch; going door to door with fliers; and posting signs that warn, “Do not play in the dirt or around the mulch.” The E.P.A. has also tested for lead in homes and offered to deep-clean them as a temporary measure.

Mr. Kaplan said the E.P.A. had in fact warned West Calumet residents for at least a decade to avoid the soil, with public notices and community meetings. Mr. Kaplan said the hot spots discovered during preliminary testing had not created a sense of urgency partly because a 2011 federal assessment of the Superfund site concluded that “breathing the air, drinking tap water or playing in soil” in the area “is not expected to harm people’s health.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 31, 2016 10:33 AM
Posted to Environment | Indiana Government