The West Calumet Housing Complex is home to nearly 1,200 people, located on a seventy nine-acre site in East Chicago, Indiana, which the Environmental Protection Agency has declared hazardous to human health. Up until 1985 a lead refinery, a copper smelter, and a secondary lead smelter were also in the area, and as early as 1987, federal and state agencies investigated the site as a potential cleanup priority. But due to limited resources and an abundance of red tape, the site has remained contaminated for decades.
This July, the residents of West Calumet Housing Complex were told they had a year to move somewhere else. Many say that local officials waited too long before telling them about environmental hazards, and they fear uprooting their families and struggling to find affordable housing nearby. On December 10, the EPA planned a meeting so residents could ask questions about the lead cleanup, but it was canceled at the last minute due to a “possible lapse in funding.”
“This is not really an explanation,” says Roy Morgan, who attends church in East Chicago and is worried about the elderly and young members of his congregation. “I understand about the lapse in funding. But…it’s the EPA, aren’t they supposed to protect the environment? We really need some answers.”
In this photo essay Alyssa Schukar takes a look at the people of East Indiana and an environmental legacy that will affect generations to come.
Photos were taken in summer and fall 2016 and captions reflect the subjects’ ages at the time the photos were shot. Additional reporting by Alex V. Hernandez.
This story was produced in partnership with City Bureau, a Chicago-based journalism lab.
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