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Promising action, new E.P.A. head and Gov. Holcomb see first-hand impact of lead contamination crisis in East Chicago

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EAST CHICAGO, Ind. – Noting his first tour of a superfund site since being appointed the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt promised new action for residents in the Indiana city grappling with a lead contamination crisis.

“The reason I’m here is because it’s important that we restore confidence to the people here that we’re going to get it right going forward,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt toured the West Calumet Housing Complex, a public housing complex, alongside Gov. Eric Holcomb who approved a disaster declaration for the city just weeks after taking office.

The pair joined other state and federal officials, including Senators Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Todd Young (R-Ind)., meeting with East Chicago officials and community leaders.

“Each visit has really cemented in my mind what many people have long known to be true,” Holcomb said. “And that’s the impact of lead contamination in this East Chicago community have made clear some of the most pressing systemic challenges these families face.”

A group of protesters gathered awaiting the delegation’s arrival Wednesday.

“I’m really trying to figure out what’s going on out here,” a resident said.

For months, hundreds of families have been evacuated from their homes as the city attempts to demolish affected buildings, after children tested positive for dangerous levels of lead, some areas even found to be 70 times the federal safety standards.

“It has caused extraordinary economic damage, extraordinary physical damage,” Donnelly said. “We’re in this together.”

The EPA is preparing to resume work in the affected areas to remove contaminated soil, a multi-million dollar effort paid for in part by “several potentially responsibility parties,” a statement from the agency said.

Holcomb’s disaster declaration came after former governor, now Vice President Mike Pence, denied the same request by local officials.

The state is continuing to blood test children, replace water infrastructure and provide resources to families needing to find new homes.