EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (WLS) --Residents of a lead-contaminated public housing complex in East Chicago, Ind., staged a protest Wednesday as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency visited their community.
The housing project in question is relatively empty; more than 1,000 families have left since an order to vacate was issued last summer. Wednesday on the EPA Superfund site, the residents who feel they've been cast aside took a stand.
"We are here because thousands of families' lives are at risk. We are here because 90 percent of the homes in East Chicago have lead-contaminated water," a speaker said to the crowd of protesters.
The protesters were waiting for Indiana's governor to join new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at his first stop at one of the 1,322 Superfund sites across the country since he took control of the EPA.
"It's the EPA's objective, my objective as administrator of the EPA, to come and make sure people's health is protected here in East Chicago, and they can have confidence their land, their health is going to be secure for the long term," Pruitt said at a press conference.
But the concern in East Chicago and in Chicago is the EPA office won't be open long enough to make sure that cleanup happens.
"We are here because we want the EPA to know, we want Pruitt to know we will not stand for the Region 5 office in Chicago being moved and dislocated," a protest speaker declared.
"In the region we might lose up to 310 staff and latest word is we might lose the regional office. That is unacceptable," said Mike Deculpa, EPA union representative.
In a meeting of local, state and federal minds, East Chicago's mayor said of the possible closure: "I did hear some of the people from the group say that they were assured from some of the administrators in Region 5 that that would not happen, that they've been assured that that would not happen."
Pruitt left East Chicago in silence.
The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA's entire budget, but this afternoon Indiana's governor, local officials and other administrators stood before people and told them they are committed to getting the project cleaned up, and protecting their health and safety.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb released a statement on the visit, saying:
The impacts of lead contamination in East Chicago have made clear some of the most pressing systemic challenges these families face. The situation demands an unprecedented level of cooperation among state, local and federal stakeholders. That is pretty easy to articulate, but it's difficult to achieve.
Today's visit by EPA Administrator Pruitt is one more example. I think it speaks volumes that he chose East Chicago to be his first Superfund site visit since taking on this new role. From our very first meeting, Pruitt and his team have demonstrated their commitment to being a partner with us, and I am profusely grateful.
This all means the collaboration is working. It means we are here, and we're staying. We're not going to leave until we get the job done, and then we'll be here a little longer-because this is about the residents.