U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say they are seeing signs of progress at East Chicago’s U.S.S. Lead Superfund site, but residents think the federal agency needs to be more thorough with its cleanup activities.
EPA officials updated residents Saturday on the progress of cleanup activities at the U.S.S. Lead site, which includes East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhood. Despite the EPA’s work, residents still have questions about other potential exposure to lead or arsenic in the area.
“I think the EPA is really pleased with the progress we’ve made,” said Tim Fischer, a section chief for EPA Region 5.
Fisher said the EPA has put together a draft plan for Zone 1; excavated contaminated soil from more properties than expected in 2018; and continued indoor dust sampling and cleanup. He added that ahead of next spring, the EPA will continue indoor dust sampling and cleanup and continue the groundwater study for a portion of the Superfund site.
Residents Saturday took issue with potential exposure from lead from indoor dust, basement seepage and exterior lead paint.
The EPA has done indoor sampling at residences where exterior remediation work is being done, and that includes testing basements.
Resident Devin Crymes said he wanted the water that seeps into his basement tested, knowing that the soil outside his home is contaminated.
Katherine Thomas, an EPA remedial project manager, said testing basement seepage was done previously, but that study continues. According to Thomas, much of that work is focused on a portion of Zone 3, and validated samples should be returned soon.
Nearly half of the basements tested so far have shown high levels of lead, Thomas said.
Thomas added that she’d get Crymes information to see if they extend the sampling and can test his basement.
“They keep delaying me, delaying me,” Crymes said. “I’m concerned about my family.”
Resident Lori Locklear said the EPA checked part of her home for lead paint when they sampled for dust, and was told there was no lead paint. She said she did her own test and found two spots.
Locklear added that “it’s just wasting time and money” for the EPA to perform incomplete testing.
Sarah Rolfes, an EPA remedial project manager, said the testing is limited for lead paint, and the EPA tells residents they should get a certified test.
“We’re looking for site-related contamination,” Rolfes said. “Lead paint is not site-related contamination.”
Locklear asked about the chipping lead paint on her outside windows, saying that could recontaminate her yard.
“We only have authority in the Superfund program to address site-related contamination,” Fisher said. “We can’t address the lead-based paint.”
Debbie Chizewer, of Northwestern University’s environmental advocacy clinic, said the EPA does have authority to deal with exterior lead-based paint.
“I don’t think you’ve done that here,” Chizewer said.
The Calumet neighborhood is an environmental justice community, Chizewer added, and there are many pathways for lead exposure. She said state resources for lead-paint abatement haven’t been effectively communicated, and only offer narrow options.
“More attention needs to be brought to this issue,” Chizewer said.
EPA officials say that excavation work to remove contaminated soil could potentially wrap up next year.
Rolfes said the EPA expected to remove soil from 140 properties in Zone 2, but contractors completed an additional 38.
Contractors still need to excavate contaminated soil from 151 properties in Zone 2, Rolfes added, and that could be finished next year.
The EPA still needs access to 50 properties in Zone 2, according to Rolfes, and work to secure access for sampling will continue during the winter.
Contractors removed soil from 120 properties in Zone 3, Thomas said, and the EPA is still working to gain access to nine properties for sampling and potential remediation.
In October, the EPA filed for administrative warrants that would allow them to sample the soil at those nine properties in Zone 3, as staff has not been able to get permission from owners for the tests.
Since 2016, Thomas said contaminated soil has been removed from 278 properties in Zone 3.
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