This Indiana City is Poisoning Families and Needs EPA Help

BY ON May 1, 2017
House with lead contamination warning sign in yard


This was written by Kelly Nichols, Moms Clean Air Force Midwest Field Organizer: 

When you think of lead poisoning, what comes to mind? It’s probably Flint, Michigan. After Flint, many communities started testing for lead contamination. Often, where there’s a large amount of contamination, lower-income families are the victims.

East Chicago’s Toxic Superfund Site

One of these communities is East Chicago, Indiana, an industrial town where a three-zoned area is situated on top of a Superfund site that used to be home to a lead smelter. According to Think Progress“For years, the city and EPA hassled over the best way to clean up the contaminated site, and waited for the past owners of U.S.S. Lead’s property to settle on a federal lawsuit that would help fund the Superfund cleanup. No one informed residents of the dangerous lead levels.”

This is a community where “environmental injustice” runs rampant. EENEWS reports, East Chicago is a “textbook example of an environmental justice low-income community of color.” Now, residents of East Chicago, a predominately African-American city of 30,000, are being asked to move from their homes, and parents are worried that lead has already poisoned their families.

Now the fight in East Chicago has become organized, as community members are putting this pollution issue on the national radar to garner the attention it deserves. The Community Strategy Group is a grassroots organization whose members and residents have the biggest stake in the battle. Thomas Frank, one of the organizers of the Community Strategy Group, told me that of the 3143 counties in the U.S., Lake County, Indiana, is one of the top 15 most polluted counties. “It’s the number 2 or 3 contributor to the Chicago airshed.” The EPA describes an airshed as, “the volume of air receiving emissions which predominantly affects a specific watershed or catchment.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Visits East Chicago

Scott Pruitt came to East Chicago on April 19th to meet with elected officials to talk about the lead and arsenic pollution. Thomas was in the room with Pruitt when the residents (of which only an additional 3 were invited to attend the session), brought their concerns to Pruitt. Thomas told me that Pruitt didn’t respond to specific concerns about the Superfund site – he made no commitments, gave no timelines, earmarked no resources for the thousands of residents impacted by the pollution.

An East Chicago Moms Want Answers

Tara Adams lives in lead poisoned East Chicago, Indiana

Tara Adams

I spoke with one of the residents, Tara Adams, about the impact of pollution on this community and on her life. Tara, who has been living in the housing complex in Zone 1, which is the most polluted portion of the Superfund site – directly where the smelting operation sat – is one of the residents being required to relocate.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Tara, how do you feel about being asked to move from your home?

At first, I was optimistic – I always give people a chance. Maybe this could be an opportunity for us to go where we want to go, or to do something different – go to a better place, a better school? As time went by, it got more and more discouraging. The EPA and city officials said  they’ll help, but help was not there. The care was not there. I began to get angry, and disappointed. Disappointed because I’m a life-long resident of 40 years. I thought, “You’re treating me like crap. You guys don’t show respect.”

When you found out just how bad the pollution was at the Superfund site, what were your thoughts, and what do you hope the EPA will do to help?

My first thought was, let me go investigate. I’m a researcher, I like to try to find out as much information as I can.

I wondered if lead had anything to do with my daughter giving birth 3 months early? Or could it have impacted my daughter’s reading abilities? Why didn’t they tell us this sooner? This was something that had been going on for 40 years.

I asked the EPA when they first came here, “How is it my house is sitting on top of lead but you’re just cleaning the open areas between houses? The contaminated trees, bushes and flowers are still left. So how is it really clean?”

What do you think would be the best outcome?

I’d like to see people compensated for their losses and future losses. I want the community to be better educated so they realize what is at stake. I want it suitable for people – and we are people. I need everyone to know that we are people. We care about our families and each other just as much as anyone else does.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I really love where I live. I love the people here. We have some downfalls, don’t get me wrong. But the heart? You can’t beat a heart like this. You just can’t.


TOPICS: African-American Community, Indiana, Politics, Social Justice