A bill to aid toxic cleanup efforts in the city of East Chicago, Indiana, passed unanimously out of a House committee on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
Rep. Earl Harris, Jr. (D-East Chicago), who authored the bill, says the city will need long term assistance to combat its lead contamination crisis.
“There’s a lot of support that’s come on the national level, on the state level, and I want to make sure that this continues,” Harris says. “This is not a short term problem.”
In part, House Bill 1344 requests that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana State Health Department conduct lead testing in soil and water throughout the city. But the bill was amended to limit that testing to an “area of special concern”—the Calumet neighborhood, which the federal government currently lists as a toxic waste cleanup site.
East Chicago resident, the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, urged lawmakers to return that portion of the bill to its original form.
“I am here because what we need and what we want is city-wide testing of the water and the soil,” Rivera says.
The Environmental Protection Agency found elevated lead levels in the drinking water of 18 Calumet homes last year — that lead comes from the city’s old lead service lines. The EPA is recommending that all residents install water filters on their taps.
Resident Sara Jimenez also testified at the hearing. She’s trying to sell her home in the contaminated Calumet neighborhood and asked lawmakers to consider an amendment providing financial assistance to homeowners.
“This will help us refurnish the new location that we will probably move into and not take our contaminated furnishings with us,” says Jimenez.
Lawmakers didn’t address whether an amendment like that would be written. One could be added if the bill is considered by the full House.