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EPA plans soil removal at lead-tainted Indiana complex

November 12, 2018

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead with plans for a 2-foot-deep removal of lead- and arsenic-contaminated soil at the site of a northwestern Indiana public housing that’s been evacuated and demolished over health concerns.

The agency estimates the cleanup project at the East Chicago’s West Calumet Housing Complex will cost about $26 million. It would involve removing more than 160,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated over decades by a lead-products factory and replacing it with clean soil and seed or sod.

More than 1,000 people, including about 700 children, were forced from the housing complex after 2016 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.

Under the EPA’s plan for bringing the Superfund site to residential standards, soil below 2 feet would remain.

“We made a promise to the residents of East Chicago to make this site a priority and now we are ready to put shovels in the ground and clean up the site,” EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp said in a statement last week.

The housing complex was near the site of U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery which salvaged lead from old car batteries and scrap metal before it closed in 1985.

Mayor Anthony Copeland has told the EPA that he’s talked with developers considering commercial or industrial projects for the site, while advocates for former West Calumet residents argue new housing should be built there.

Thomas Frank, a member of Calumet Lives Matter, said many other nonresidential locations in the city are more suitable to business or industrial developments.

“What’s so important about that is the residents in Calumet would never have agreed to demo of West Calumet but for the promise that this would be redeveloped as housing,” he said.

The EPA has scheduled a Nov. 29 public meeting in East Chicago on the cleanup plans and is accepting public comments until Jan. 14.

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