June 3, 2022

EPA investigates pollution at old oil refinery in East Chicago next to USS Lead

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An aerial map of the old Cities Service Refinery site just east of the Calumet neighborhood in East Chicago. The green shows the CITGO oil storage facility. The blue shows the vacant property now owned by Oxy USA. - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

An aerial map of the old Cities Service Refinery site just east of the Calumet neighborhood in East Chicago. The green shows the CITGO oil storage facility. The blue shows the vacant property now owned by Oxy USA.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency said oil pollution from an old refinery in East Chicago isn’t reaching the neighbors next door. But residents aren’t so sure.

The site of the old Cities Service Refinery now houses a CITGO oil storage facility and vacant property owned by Oxy USA. The EPA found groundwater in the center of the site had high levels of fuel chemicals — like benzene, which can cause blood cancers.

“We have not found anything migrating to the residential properties. That was a main concern of ours when we started this project," said Renee Wawczak, EPA project manager.

Wawczak said the agency started testing the groundwater from the property line of the site and worked its way in — to make sure the chemicals weren't reaching residents first.

 

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Maritza Lopez lives in the Calumet neighborhood nearby — an area that's already facing arsenic and lead contamination from the USS Lead Superfund site. She said the EPA should have tested residential properties too.

Lopez said she and other residents will often find a black, shiny substance seeping into her basement and in the toilet of her basement bathroom.

“If you didn’t test outside your own boundaries into the residential areas on your contaminants, how do you know that the testing is accurate?” she said in a virtual public meeting on the site on Wednesday.

Lopez said the EPA should have let residents know it was testing the old refinery and about any potential health risks.

READ MORE: Report: East Chicago Superfund blood lead levels higher than overall city

Lopez said there's often a foul smell coming from the CITGO facility and residents should report those to the EPA or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The EPA said it will keep monitoring the groundwater at the facility while it looks into what sort of cleanup should be done on the site, if any.

Right now, East Chicago residents get their drinking water from Lake Michigan. The investigation report suggests making sure residents don’t use the groundwater for drinking in the future.

The EPA is taking public comments on the investigation at the old refinery site through June 30.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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.

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