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East Chicago Lead Crisis

MAP: EPA Named East Chicago A Superfund Site, But What Does That Mean?

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9/22/16

By: Lauren Chapman, IPB News

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program was started in 1980, and since its inception, it has added 49 sites in Indiana to its National Priority List.

A Superfund is a site designation by the EPA to receive state and federal money to clean up hazardous waste that poses a threat to public health.

To determine if the threat level is high enough to warrant state and federal assistance, the EPA uses a Hazard Ranking System scored from 0-100. Sites ranking 28.5 and above are eligible for state and federal cleanup assistance.

Once something is eligible, the EPA inspects it to determine if it will become a Superfund site. If the clean up is fairly simple, or it is not an immediate threat to human health, or a different program is better suited for the task — it might not become a Superfund.

If the opposite is true — the cleanup is complicated, it poses an immediate threat, or few funds are available for cleanup — it is designated a Superfund and placed on the National Priorities List, NPL.

For example, in 2008 EPA documents scored East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhood a 58.1.

State environmental quality and health agencies are primarily responsible for providing testing and data, and the site was referred to the NPL.

Click on the icon on the top left to see the full list of Superfund sites in Indiana.

The designation came after a failed attempt to clean the site through other funding. The area was tested in 1992, but it was not put on the NPL. It was added to an alternative program called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

RCRA allowed supervision of clean-up efforts from the company found responsible for the pollution, USS Lead. And the cleanup was confined to the original property of USS Lead, not the East Chicago neighborhood next door, to its north.

According to EPA documents from 2004, it was decided that the original site and the residential neighborhoods to the north should be added to the NPL.

The Superfund program was created by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which was signed into law in 1980 to tackle the cost for clean-up efforts. To do this, the law established a tax on chemical and petroleum industries for five years, which created a $1.6 billion trust fund.

Superfund cleanup efforts are also funded by any businesses that are found to be responsible for the contamination.

In East Chicago, the original property of USS Lead was cleaned up by the RCRA.

Soil on residential properties wasn’t tested until 2003. At that point, USS Lead funds for soil remediation had run out. The West Calumet Housing Complex and those residential neighborhoods became the responsibility of Atlantic Richfield and DuPont, according to a 2014 consent decree, due to their historic activity in the area.

After cleanup efforts have been completed, the EPA deletes the site from the NPL.

In Indiana, 10 of the state’s 49 sites have been successfully removed from the list.

 

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