EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to excavate soil tainted with lead and arsenic from around more than 160 homes in East Chicago, in a push the agency says could complete exterior residential cleanups this year in the northwest Indiana city.
The EPA intends to remove polluted soil from about 167 properties in East Chicago's Calumet neighborhood, which is part of the U.S.S. Lead Superfund site.
Sarah Rolfes, an EPA remedial project manager, said Saturday that the exterior residential cleanups would end in 2019 if the properties targeted for remediation are completed and the agency receives access for sampling and remediation at 28 properties in the neighborhood, the Post-Tribune reported. Since 2016, the EPA has dug 582 properties in East Calumet and Calumet, which are the Superfund site's two residential zones.
"Every year, we've made continuous progress," said Rolfes.
In 2016, over 1,000 people were forced from the West Calumet Housing Complex after tests found high lead levels in blood samples from some children and some yards with lead levels over 70 times the U.S. safety standard.
Debbie Chizewer of Northwestern University's environmental advocacy clinic is collaborating with the East Chicago Calumet Coalition organization. She said residents want the EPA to accelerate a study of the groundwater in the area to determine whether there is any risk of recontamination at properties that have been remediated.
The agency is still working on the groundwater analysis, said Katherine Thomas, an EPA remedial project manager.
Chizewer noted that most residents are concerned about what the EPA will choose to do to remediate the former West Calumet Housing Complex so that it can return to a beneficial use.
"That's something that's really important," she said.
As the cleanup continues, Chizewer said, the EPA could offer resident's more health screenings that can detect potential dangers. Many residences have not been tested for indoor lead dust, and there has been little done to resolve lead-based paint issues, she noted.
The agency is still reviewing public comments on the plan and doesn't have new information on the former housing complex's cleanup plan, according to the EPA.