Indiana governor: New law will aid lead-tainted region

Gov. Eric Holcomb is praising a new state law that will help a northwestern Indiana city deal with lead and arsenic contamination that's forcing residents in a public housing complex from their homes.

Holcomb joined East Chicago officials for a ceremonial bill signing Thursday in a park that's within a Superfund site in the industrial city about 25 miles from downtown Chicago.

The new law will compel state environmental officials to help with the site cleanup and to test soil and water throughout East Chicago, The Post-Tribune reported.

The bill also requires Indiana's housing authority to work with federal officials on relocating residents from the West Calumet Housing Complex, which was built on a site previously occupied by a lead-products factory.

Holcomb recently announced that a state agency plans to locate a new public housing development in East Chicago.

"We are getting things done because we are working shoulder to shoulder and taking these steps together," he said.

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., an East Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said it aims to provide relief to residents being forced from their homes due to the industrial contamination.

"We know that this problem did not happen in five minutes, in a week, in a month and we know that it's going to take a little bit of time to get through it and get back to where we should be," he said.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said the legislation puts "everyone on notice that we work together as one."

"It's important we don't get a negative stigmatism so people don't want to come here," he said.

City officials began evacuating about 1,000 residents of the West Calumet complex last year after soil tests found some yards with lead levels over 70 times the U.S. safety standard. Lead exposure, even at low levels, can cause nervous system damage and lowered IQs.

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