The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the City of East Chicago, Indiana are trying to mend a fractured relationship.
Tuesday was the first step toward that effort with the parties hosting an open house to provide residents with updated information concerning clean up efforts of contaminated soil.
“We’ve met with the mayor of number of times. We’ve briefed him on the work that we are doing out here I think we are at the point right now that we have an effective working relationship with the mayor right now,” said EPA spokesman Doug Ballotti.
Mayor Anthony Copeland sent a letter in July to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in which he accused the agency of failing in its duty to protect human health.
Copeland said the agency withheld information concerning soil samples that showed high levels of lead in the West Calumet public housing complex.
The complex was built over land once used by a petroleum company that used lead and arsenic.
The EPA had been testing in the area since 2004. Testing came back in 2014 that showed alarming levels of lead in the soil.
But those test were not revealed to the city until May of this year.
“The thing I can find amazing in all of this process is how (the EPA) could capture data and would not release those numbers to city officials or responsible parties,” Copeland said during a Tuesday morning interview on WJOB AM 1230 in Hammond, Indiana.
The EPA’s original plan was to remediate any contaminated soil and allow the residents to continue to live in the housing complex.
This was unacceptable to Copeland, who moved for the 1,200 residents to be moved to alternative housing once the high lead levels were revealed to him in May.
That process is ongoing but will take months to complete.
At the open house, residents were able to meet with city, state and federal officials on the plan of action. The event was held at Carrie Gosch Elementary, a school that had been closed this year due to lead fears. The EPA is renting the school as a command center since it is near the public housing complex.
City Attorney Carla Morgan says the city is just interested in working with the EPA, not pointing fingers.
“We’re looking at moving forward. We’re looking really hard for solutions,” Morgan said. “A lot of the issues that have came up in the past have been repaired. We’re moving forward. We’ve got a all-hands-on-deck approach. So, we’re moving forward in a way that’s really positive.”
Follow WBEZ’s Michael Puente @MikePuenteNews.