Holcomb issues executive order declaring emergency disaster for East Chicago lead contamination

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A sign displayed in a front yard request that residents keep fro playing in the dirt or mulch at the West Calumet Housing Complex on September 4, 2016 in East Chicago, Indiana. The soil at the complex has been found to contain high levels of lead and arsenic putting all residents in danger if exposed to the elements. Over 1,000 residents are being asked by the East Chicago Housing Authority to relocate, after plans were decided to demolish the housing complex. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Gov. Eric Holcomb will sign an executive order declaring a disaster emergency for the East Chicago Superfund Site, he said during a news conference Thursday.

More than 1,000 residents in the Lake County community were left in a state of uncertainty after being informed in July that their homes were to be destroyed because of lead contamination.

The executive order is a 30-day disaster declaration that’s focused on helping relocate nearly 100 East Chicago residents who remain at the affected housing complex.

“After months of local and state action to meet the safety, health and housing needs of these East Chicago residents, I’m declaring this disaster emergency in hopes that we can accelerate, coordinate and focus local, state and federal efforts and resources where they will have the greatest benefit,” Holcomb said.

The West Calumet Complex was built on top of the Anaconda White Lead Company, south of a former USS Lead industrial site and next to a DuPont site. The companies smelted or processed lead for decades.

In July, families received letters telling them to relocate because of elevated levels of lead found in the soil. They were warned not to let children play in the dirt and were told to wash their toys.

In December, the EPA said it discovered elevated levels of lead in some of the drinking water.

According to EPA records, one of the yards showed lead levels 227 times above the lead limit and 135 times above the arsenic limit.

The community has written letters to former Gov. Mike Pence and current Gov. Eric Holcomb in an effort to get a disaster declaration. Those efforts proved successful with Holcomb’s Thursday announcement that he would sign an executive order.

The order calls for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority to create a web page to provide updates on local, state and federal progress at the site.

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