East Chicago Residents, Mayor At Odds Over Superfund Cleanup Plan

Nov 30, 2018

The mayor of East Chicago and its residents have different ideas about what to do with part of the USS Lead Superfund site once it's cleaned up. And how it’ll be used might determine how much lead and arsenic contamination gets removed. 

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends cleaning up the area where the West Calumet Housing Complex once stood to residential standards. But in a letter to the EPA, Mayor Anthony Copeland suggested the property could be used for commercial or industrial purposes — which could mean the EPA wouldn’t have to remove as much contaminated soil.

As a result, the EPA has built a contigency into its plan — the cleanup will be to a residential standard, unless the city decides to take an offer from a commercial or industrial company later on. 

At a recent meeting, Sherry Hunter with Calumet Lives Matter says the mayor doesn’t care about his residents.

“I don’t know why. We didn’t ask for what we’re going through,” she says.

In a statement, Calumet Lives Matter says it only agreed to have the housing complex demolished because it was promised the area would stay residential. EPA Remedial Project Manager Tom Alcamo says the EPA can’t tell the city what to do with its property.

“We’re kind of stuck in a pickle here because of the fact that we don’t make the determination of future use," he says. "We have nothing to do with that. They tell us what it is.”

Options for Cleanup

The EPA has recommended excavating up to two feet of soil from Zone 1 and disposing of it in an approved landfill away from the site. That soil would be replaced with clean soil and seed or sod. The EPA says this would take about seven months to complete and cost $26.5 million. In comparison, excavating the soil to an industrial/commercial standard would dig down half as deep and would cost $14 million. 

READ MORE: EPA To Monitor East Chicago Groundwater At USS Lead

Several residents want to see as much contaminated soil taken away as possible. The most expensive alternative, at $48.8 million, would delve all the way down to native sand. It would take about 14 months to complete the work. The EPA says maneuvering around groundwater could make this option difficult, but that it would be effective in eliminating risks of exposure. All of the options presented in the plan can be viewed on the EPA's website

The agency is taking comments on its plan for cleanup at Zone 1 of the USS Lead site through Jan. 14.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.