Human Rights

Mike Pence Was Asked to Solve the Lead Poisoning Crisis in His Own Backyard—Here's What Happened Next

Gov. Pence has not yet visited the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana.

Photo Credit: TYT Politics / YouTube

Flint isn't the only Midwestern city dealing with lead poisoning; East Chicago, Indiana, 250 miles away, is experiencing a crisis all their own. And like activists at Standing Rock, residents of the small city are rising up and demanding change. 

"We've been very much involved in organizing of community folks in the West Calumet [Housing Complex]... the most important is helping them understand that they do have the power, that they cannot sit back and rely upon the public officials to tell them that everything is okay or tell them what to do, so we've been organizing them so that they can find their own voice and putting together some demands so that they get some remediations," said Reverend Cheryl Rivera of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations. 

According to Young Turks reporter Jordan Chariton, "East Chicago, Indiana, a low-income neighborhood predominantly made up of Hispanics and African Americans, received notice in July, 2016 that the West Calumet apartment complex [which was built on top of a lead smelting plant] had 218 times the 'allowable' limit of lead in its ground soil and air.

The EPA and city officials' knowledge of East Chicago's high level of lead dates back decades, yet officials failed to inform residents of potential heath risks. 

"The first thing is that we wanted was for the mayor [Anthony Copeland] to declare the entire Superfund site an emergency declaration," explained Rivera. "That was very difficult because at first he rebuffed us in a couple of meetings."

But eventually Copeland did respond to the community by sending a letter to Gov. Mike Pence, now Vice President-elect, as well as  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and President Obama: 

"I find it compelling that the American people, in their compassion, can send Flint bottled water, but it's unfortunate that they can't send residents of West Calumet potted soil to protect them from the extremely high, unprecedented levels of lead contamination around their homes," he wrote.

As of January 2, 2017, Gov. Pence has not yet visited the West Calumet housing complex.

"[Pence] sent some of his emissaries..  and he provided a $100,000 toward helping the folks in West Calumet, while the state of Indiana sits on a two billion dollar surplus," Rivera revealed. 

The $100,000 was used to hire a public health nurse and health educator to help with the lead testing.

"Meanwhile, frightened West Calumet residents, who are mostly African-American and who were notified by the mayor last week via mail that they should move, were fretting over their futures," NBC reported

The residents did not know they had been sitting on contaminated land, some for half a century. When the mayor is demolished the 44-year-old development in response to the dangerously high levels of lead found below it, residents began to get worried. 

"The workshop of America has a lot of toxic secrets," remarked Thomas Franks, President at American Air Environmental Ser, Inc/ADMS, LLC an environmental consulting and laboratory analysis company based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

"It's like a recall on a product but nobody wants to go back to the manufacturer and say 'Hey, you made a mistake, you're poisoning people.'"


Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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