Contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency removed about 3,600 cubic yards of lead and arsenic contaminated soil from the old Carrie Gosch Elementary school property in East Chicago, Indiana. But residents say the EPA moved forward with the cleanup without addressing their concerns.
The EPA removed the top two feet of soil from areas of the Carrie Gosch school property which had lead and arsenic levels that exceeded the agency’s recommendations.
Members of the East Chicago Calumet Coalition Community Advisory Group have asked the EPA for months to retest the property before cleaning it up. They say the agency didn’t do a thorough test and that contamination could have drifted over from the demolition of the nearby West Calumet Public Housing Complex.
Mark Templeton is the director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. It represents some residents affected by the USS Lead Superfund site.
“I think this shows once again, that EPA is moving forward without engaging the community and answering their questions," Templeton says.
Community Advisory Group President Martiza Lopez says many residents weren’t notified about the cleanup until about a week before workers started — and some didn’t know about it at all.
“Even the surrounding neighbors, they weren’t even aware of it — and they’re the ones directly affected,” she says.
Lopez says she only found out because the city told her she couldn’t get a redevelopment grant to clean up lead on her property until work at the school was done.
“This has been how they've been working all along and it's getting upsetting already. Because how can you say it’s safe when you're doing surprise stuff like this?” she says.
At a recent listening session with the EPA’s internal watchdog group, residents said the agency has failed to effectively communicate the health risks from the USS Lead Superfund site.
The EPA says it addressed residents concerns about Carrie Gosch when it took public comments on the cleanup plan in 2012. The agency will continue restoration work at the old school site this month.
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.