Work cleaning up lead and arsenic contamination in East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhood could wrap up this year in one part of the Superfund site but take longer in another residential area, officials said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said during this year’s construction season, contractors could complete remediating contaminated soil in East Calumet, but need another two to three years to finish work in the residential zone between Kennedy Avenue and McCook Avenue.
Albert Kelly, a senior advisory to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, said Saturday the East Chicago cleanup is one of the agency’s top priorities. Kelly said he understands that residents are frustrated and it doesn’t look like the governmental entities are moving fast enough.
“Relationships are built one at a time. I believe that we’re making headway every day we’re out there,” Kelly said. “We want to get these things cleaned. That’s our commitment.”
The idea is to make the community safe, Kelly said, but that takes time.
“We definitely want a permanent solution,” Kelly said.
Sarah Rolfes, an EPA remedial project manager, said 323 properties still need remediation in Zone 2, and contractors could finish up to 140 homes this year. She said contractors remediated soil at 109 homes in Zone 2 in 2017.
Diana Adams, who lives in Zone 2, said she was told in 2016 her property needed remediation.
“The yard has not been done,” Adams said. “Why should my property wait five years?”
Dan Haag, an EPA on-site coordinator, said the work done to date focused on priority properties, which included those with high levels of contamination, homes with young children or pregnant women or met other criteria. Haag said the EPA is still working with contractors to see what homes will be remediated this year.
“We’re still working on that schedule,” Haag said.
In Zone 3, Rolfes said contractors plan to remediate 111 homes, which would nearly complete soil removal efforts in the neighborhood. Contractors removed contaminated soil at 120 homes in 2017, Rolfes said.
“Those are the last remaining properties we have access to,” Rolfes said.
Haag said the EPA still doesn’t have access agreements to 40 properties in Zone 3.
The EPA is still working to get access to those properties, Rolfes said, and could add them to this year’s list for remediation if that permission is given to them.
Region 5 Administrator Kathy Stepp said the team working in the Superfund site is doing its best to remedy the situation and get information to residents.
“I want you to feel good about the level of passion and commitment my team has,” Stepp said.