EPA works to address concerns as it begins excavation

An EPA contractor places a warning sign on a fence last summer at a home in East Chicago’s East Calumet neighborhood, which is part of the USS Lead Superfund site. 

EAST CHICAGO — The city's new emergency management consultant listened Friday to residents' concerns about the USS Lead Superfund site and public housing and assured them the city wants to support them.

Herbie Cruz, who retired several years ago as the city's emergency management director, returned to city work a couple of weeks ago. He patiently listened to residents concerns' during a community strategy group meeting, asked questions and took notes.

"More than likely, if they see all of us united, we can accomplish a lot," he told residents at the start of the meeting.

Cruz began by urging all residents to have their blood tested for lead.

"Be proactive. This is your health. This is your future," he said.

Cruz acknowledged concerns about residents not being notified by the city about testing results. He said after the meeting that the city on Monday will start being more proactive about notifying residents when results are in.

"We'll call contact numbers to let them know. We'll send postcards," he said.

However, the city Health Department will not be releasing blood testing results over the phone, he said. He cited a federal health information privacy law, but also said the city wants face time with residents to educate them.

"They will be asked to come into the health department to pick up their results and receive education on what results may mean," he said.

The group presented a long list of questions to Cruz, who answered some and said he would have to check with Mayor Anthony Copeland and the city's legal team before addressing others.

Cruz said the city is still considering a program to assist residents in paying for water filters and service line replacement.

EPA recently said drinking water at 18 out of 43 homes it tested in the Superfund site tested above allowable limits for lead. The results are not tied to the lead and arsenic in the area's soil, but rather aging lead service lines and equipment. 

EPA conducted the testing to address concerns about excavation possibly causing lead particles to break free from service lines and enter the water supply. Superfund residents, including Sara Jimenez, said they're also concerned trains and snowplows may cause lead lines to deteriorate because those activities shake the ground with great force, too.

Jimenez said after the meeting she was excited to hear Cruz signal the city might be willing to seek resources to address residents' demands for a voluntary buyout of their homes at pre-crisis prices.

Cruz also heard concerns from residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex and Nicosia Senior Building.


Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.