By: Leah Howard
Officials in the city notified over 1,000 residents in West Calumet that there was lead contamination in the soil. The affected community consists of low-income housing complexes. The families in the area have now been displaced and the complex is set for demolition. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested the soil in the community in December of 2014 but it wasn’t until July 11, 2016 that residents received a letter from the agency telling residents that the invisible toxin was present.
The housing complex was an affordable care community and is now a U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery Inc. Superfund site, meaning it is now a part of a major clean-up process that is aimed to rid the area of the lead and arsenic using funding from the Atlantic Richfield Company and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. The EPA anticipates that about 53% of the properties in the area will need to be cleaned. The area used to be the site of the U.S.S. Lead plant, creating raw lead for products such as batteries or pipes. In 1985, the company shut down, and EPA records that date back over 20 years ago show that elevated levels in the soil.
The mayor of East Chicago assigned partial blame to EPA’s Region 5, the same region that Flint, Michigan resides. In a statement to CNN, the Region 5 admin admitted that “In retrospect, with spikes in the preliminary data. . . it could have triggered action to be taken sooner.” In addition, the Indiana State Department of Health withdrew funding for blood lead testing in 2011, and many residents who were tested positive for lead did not receive letters until months after their initial testing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given $1.9 million for rent vouchers for residents, and in addition has provided $400,000 for relocation specialists to help residents move to a safe neighborhood.
In response to the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the United Nations criticized the action, or lack there of, of the United States. Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur, stated that “decisions would have never been made in the high-handed cavalier manner that occurred in Flint if the affected population group was well-off or overwhelmingly white.” In addition, the U.N. urged the United States to ratify the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which the U.S. has yet to do. The question is now whether or not these hazards in low income neighborhoods will continue to evade public attention or if the United States government will take action to prevent them from every happening again.