East Chicago Needs More than "Basics" from Scott Pruitt’s EPA
With his upcoming visit to East Chicago, Indiana, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has a critical opportunity to make good on his confirmation statement—that EPA should have “acted faster” in Flint—by stepping in to ensure that residents throughout East Chicago have reliable access to drinking water that is not contaminated by lead.
The petition highlights an EPA pilot study at East Chicago’s Superfund site that EPA has concluded indicates a system-wide problem with elevated lead in East Chicago’s drinking water.
It was only after EPA flagged major inadequacies in the lead corrosion control treatment used by East Chicago that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) asked the City to change its water treatment in early fall 2016.
His article on polyphosphates and lead, funded by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), states in the first sentence that “Hexametaphosphate tends to increase the release of both soluble and particulate forms of lead in drinking water.” A subsequent 2005 guide from the AWWA on lead and copper rule corrosion control treatment cites the 2002 Edwards article, putting forth that “[p]olyphosphates and sodium hexametaphosphate are sequestering agents and may be effective for the control of iron and manganese, but are not recommended for the control of lead and copper.” When confronted with IDEM’s approval of the city’s use of hexametaphosphate, an IDEM spokesperson “could not comment” on whether the agency was aware of the 2002 Edwards study when it approved the City’s permit 7 years later.
Clearly EPA oversight of East Chicago’s corrosion control treatment is needed moving forward.
While Superfund residents should receive priority in the water contamination response, residents throughout the city need relief from the systemic lead problem with their drinking water—and they need it now.
In January, IDEM made claims in an email to EPA that the study identified only “an isolated location in the distribution that had a low amount of [lead corrosion control treatment].” This despite evidence that flow conditions at the sample sites were sufficient to distribute corrosion control treatment, with low flow issues potentially impacting only a small percentage of samples.
Residents of the Superfund site are rightfully receiving state-sponsored water filters—installation of which has *finally* begun four months after the EPA study results were made public, and long after volunteer efforts were underway – and are slated for publicly-funded replacement of their lead service lines.
However, government agencies have committed little to no assistance to ensure that residents of the rest of the city currently have a clean source of drinking water.
If the City and State cannot or will not stake the steps necessary to ensure a safe drinking water supply, then EPA can and should step in so that all residents receive bottled water and effective filters now, and properly treated water and new service lines later down the road.