Flint, Michigan. Chances are you’ve heard of it. You vaguely remember your outraged second cousin posting to Facebook about government negligence, and the news coverage surrounding the calamity clogged your feed.
You felt a twinge of pity in your heart for those dealing with lead-ridden water sources and nowhere to go. Unfortunately, East Chicago, Indiana, faces a similar situation.
In an effort to skirt around escalating city water prices, residents in Flint, Michigan, began drinking contaminated water from Flint River in April 2014.
The water was defined as “hazardous waste” by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Children suffering from rashes and mysterious illnesses began to pop up. Academic water testing began. Lawsuits were filed.
Five hundred and thirty-nine days later, the low-income city finally switched back to Detroit city water.
It wasn’t until January 2016 that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared Genesee County, where Flint is located, a state of emergency.
That was Michigan. If something like this were to happen in Indiana, we like to think we would do better. We would recognize the human cost of such erroneous decisions and fix it in a timely manner.
In 2014, the EPA began testing for lead and arsenic levels in zone 1 of West Calumet Housing Complex, a low-income neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana. Knowingly, government officials ordered the community to be built on top of the land of what used to be the United States Smelter and Lead Refinery. It is now a 79-acre Superfund Zone.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, uncontaminated soil contain less than 50 parts per million of lead.
In one front yard, after digging two feet beneath the ground, the EPA discovered 91,100 ppm of lead in the soil. That is 1,822 times the legal limit of lead.
More than 40 percent of residents in East Chicago are younger than 18 years old. These children unknowingly grew up in an extremely unsafe environment.
When looking at demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau, Flint and East Chicago, Indiana, are extremely similar.
In Flint, the per capita income for one year is $14,765. For East Chicago, Indiana, it’s $14,154.
Ninety-eight thousand individuals reside in Flint, while only 28,000 live in East Chicago, Indiana. The West Calumet Housing Complex, highlighted for its extremely high levels of lead-infested soil, only contains 347 units of housing.
Nearly two months before Mike Pence took the oath to become vice president, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland sent him a letter, a cry for help, asking for Pence to declare the USS Lead Superfund Zone a disaster emergency.
Governor Pence spoke at an Indiana State House cabinet meeting and pledged “to serve Hoosiers until the very last hour of this administration.”
Pence had 1,608 hours to fix the situation in East Chicago, Indiana, yet he did nothing.
Sure, 1,000 people is nothing compared to the 6.6 million residents of Indiana, but those were the 1,000 people that needed him.
This soil has been contaminated for decades, and the city of East Chicago, Indiana, was well aware of the situation since testing began in 2014.
Last Thursday, Gov. Eric Holcomb granted the city disaster declaration. Sadly, this declaration is two years too late. It’s an afterthought.
We have witnessed our government outright ignore a group of misfortunate individuals simply because they could.
The Editorial Board fears situations like these will continue to go unnoticed up across the country.
We suppose solving disasters like these just depends on who is being affected and how many people have to die before somebody does anything about it.
We implore Indiana lawmakers to be proactive.