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EPA Administrator Visits East Chicago, NAACP Demands More Help

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt address a crowd during his visit to East Chicago, Indiana, with state and local officials including Gov. Eric Holcomb and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly.

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt made his first visit to a Superfund site Wednesday, meeting in East Chicago with lawmakers a residents affected by lead contamination.

He made a short statement outside a shuttered elementary school in the USS Lead Superfund, after a closed briefing with Gov. Eric Holcomb, state and federal lawmakers, and local officials.

“And the reason I’m here is because it’s important that we restore confidence for the people here in this community that we’re gonna get it right going forward,” Pruitt says.

Pruitt didn’t elaborate on the “concrete steps” officials discussed to restore that confidence. But Robert Kaplan, who is the head of the EPA’s regional office, told reporters the agency is working to speed up excavation of contaminated yards and expand lead testing in drinking water – initiatives he says were Pruitt’s idea.

“And I know for a fact that his very first Superfund briefing was East Chicago, and at the end of the briefing he committed to going further,” Kaplan says.

Earlier Wednesday, Pruitt and Holcomb took a driving tour of the contaminated neighborhood. They also heard what Kaplan described as “emotional” testimony from residents.

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During Pruitt’s visit, the NAACP called on the EPA to do more to help affected residents.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks, members of his organization’s Indiana chapter and East Chicago community leaders wrote a list of demands to present at a meeting Wednesday morning

Brooks says they want the EPA to be more responsive, expand soil and blood lead testing testing efforts, and establish a victims’ compensation fund to make residents “whole.”

“We have been going through this, fighting tooth and nail. So to get the support of an organization that’s been in existence for over 100 years is grand.”

“And by whole, we don’t merely mean making the land whole, we don’t merely mean making the buildings whole,” Brooks says. “We mean making the people whole.”

East Chicago residents say they’re grateful for the NAACP’s help. Tara Adams says residents haven’t received the attention they deserve.

“We have been going through this, fighting tooth and nail. So to get the support of an organization that’s been in existence for over 100 years is grand,” Adams says.

NAACP President Brooks says he’s glad Holcomb has issued an emergency declaration for East Chicago, which he hopes will be extended indefinitely. But he also wishes leaders like Holcomb and Pruitt will spend more time speaking with residents directly.

Brooks says Pruitt, Holcomb, and other Indiana lawmakers were invited to participate in the NAACP meeting, but declined to attend.

Pruitt did meet with residents and state leaders later in the day. He is making a public statement before leaving East Chicago, followed by statements from EPA Region 5 Chief Robert Kaplan, Gov. Holcomb and other lawmakers.

This story has been updated.

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