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Environmental Groups Keeping Pressure on EPA

Residents of a housing complex in East Chicago say they're angry because they should have been told much earlier about lead contamination in the soil. (
Residents of a housing complex in East Chicago say they're angry because they should have been told much earlier about lead contamination in the soil. (
August 16, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS - Environmental groups have been stepping up pressure on federal agencies over coal-ash pollution in the state, and now there is another public health issue. The EPA has ordered the demolition of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago after high levels of lead and arsenic were found in the soil. Residents got a letter last month saying the ground has been contaminated since at least 2014, and some environmental law experts say the national attention on the water contamination in Flint, Michigan may have ignited this action.

Lindsay Shipps, program organizer with the Citizen's Action Coalition, said lawmakers continually ignore environmental issues that affect public health, and because of that there's not a lot of trust.

"Hoosiers see the Legislature moving forward with legislation that handcuffs Indiana from making any proper, progressive or even rudimentary type of policy making that will protect clean water and clean air, and as a result you've got one of the worst states in the nation for environmental quality," she said.

The thousand-plus residents who live in the housing complex have been told they should get tested for lead. Many say they're angry because the EPA knew about the contamination but didn't inform anyone until recently.

Shipps said another issue eroding public trust centers around the BP refinery in Whiting. Earlier this month, BP was criticized for accidentally discharging about five times more industrial waste than allowed into Lake Michigan.

"You really don't have a lot of inspired loyalty in how the state is managing these types of issues when they routinely see, for example, the Department of Environmental Management looking the other way, refusing to fine companies when they make mistakes routinely," she added.

Even though Shipps said Indiana's Republican Governor Mike Pence has not been environmentally friendly to the state, she thinks the national spotlight he's under since he agreed to be Donald Trump's running mate will push Indiana's problems into the forefront.

"We're suddenly on a national level and we get to talk about the problems that we've got because no one cares about this stuff until it's right in their own backyard, and that's why we do what we do so we can give voice to some of these issues," she explained.

Shipps said Indiana has a black eye when it comes to the environment because there's not rigorous enough regulation of large companies like BP, or of the state's 84 coal-ash dump sites.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN