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Advocates Request Federal Funding To Investigate Drinking Water In East Chicago

A coalition of environmental and advocacy groups are calling for the federal government to expand its role in making sure there is safe drinking water in East Chicago, Indiana.

High-levels of lead in the soil in one area of the city has drawn concern about the overall drinking water supply. In a petition sent this week, the groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take emergency action.

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This Aug. 23, 2016 photo shows an empty playground and Carrie Gosch elementary school which has been closed due to lead contamination near the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)

An empty playground and Carrie Gosch elementary school, which has been closed due to lead contamination near the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind.

Tae-Gyun Kim

A coalition of environmental and advocacy groups are calling for the federal government to expand its role in making sure there is safe drinking water in East Chicago, Indiana.

High-levels of lead in the soil in one area of the city has drawn concern about the overall drinking water supply. In a petition sent this week, the groups are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take emergency action.

“Nobody should be forced to endure contaminated drinking water, a basic need of every American,” Anjali Waikar, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “The EPA must act to protect the community’s health until effective long-term fixes are in place.”

Last fall the EPA tested water in 43 homes that were near the West Calumet Housing Complex, where residents are now being forced to move because of lead in the soil. Tests for 18 of those homes came back with high lead levels, though the EPA said then that there was no cause for concern.

The pilot study concluded that old piping in the homes could be causing the elevated levels of lead in drinking water, rather than the lead found in the soil at the nearby USS Lead Superfund site.

The agency urged residents to purchase water filters, but had no plans to expand the testing beyond the superfund site where some 6,000 of the city’s nearly 29,000 residents live.

An EPA spokesperson said the the agency is considering the request.

“EPA has received the petition requesting that the agency take emergency action under the Safe Drinking Water Act in East Chicago, Indiana. EPA will review the petition and will continue to work with the city and state to protect the health of East Chicago, Indiana,” the agency said in a statement to WBEZ on Friday.

Meanwhile, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said the the city’s drinking water, which it draws from Lake Michigan, is safe and is in full compliance with Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations.

But Copeland acknowledged that old lead piping in the homes of residents could be elevating lead in drinking water.

He’s hoping the state of Indiana provides additional resources and money to help homeowners pay for new piping.

In February, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb declared the lead issue a disaster emergency and plans to provide additional funds and resources to aid the city.

This week, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, invited newly confirmed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development director Ben Carson and new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to visit East Chicago to get a first-hand look of the lead issue.

Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @MikePuenteNews.

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