Gov. Holcomb Signs Aid Bill For East Chicago Lead Crisis

May 18, 2017

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill Thursday providing aid for a lead contaminated neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana.

House Bill 1344 expands lead testing in the soil and water of the USS Lead Superfund site in East Chicago. At the bill signing in East Chicago, Holcomb says nothing could be more important than getting the city back on track.

“From the street to your Statehouse to the White House, we are going to make sure East Chicago stays on track,” says Holcomb.

When the bill was originally introduced, it expanded testing throughout the entire city and provided aid to the city’s school system. Rep. Earl Harris, Jr. (D-East Chicago) says, while he doesn’t love that those provisions were taken out, he’s okay with the compromise.

“Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little to get something, versus not getting anything at all,” Harris says.

That was a common theme heard from residents who attended the bill signing. Superfund resident Sherry Hunter, a founder of the advocacy group Calumet Lives Matter, says the bill’s signing is an important accomplishment. But, she’s still worried about former residents from the now evacuated West Calumet Housing Complex.

“I have a niece, she had to move all the way to Atlanta, one lady moved to Vegas,” says Hunter. “And [they had] never been out of this area.”

Hunter wants the area cleaned up so those residents can return home, if they want. But when it comes to creating a redevelopment plan, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland says he’s not putting the cart before the horse.

“Until we get it cleaned up and the EPA says ‘we’re done, we’ve cleaned it to residential standards, now we’re walking away,’ then it would be the right time to bring developers in,” Copeland says.

One problem – the Environmental Protection Agency says it can’t clean up the site until it knows what the city plans to do with it. The site will be cleaned to a different standard depending on whether the city uses the land for industry or housing.

READ MORE: In Evansville, Superfund Site Redevelopment Took Time, Teamwork

Mayor Copeland also says HB 1344 “will restore the public’s trust in the water filtration system.”

Despite being in accordance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule, which governs drinking water lead testing, last year the EPA found elevated lead levels from lead service lines in 43 East Chicago homes using a more rigorous testing method.

The city recently started replacing lead service lines within the Superfund site and will begin replacing lines throughout the city later this year.