How Lead Poisoning in East Chicago, Indiana Might Pop Flint Crisis Wide Open

In Articles by JordanChariton0 Comments

When Carmen Garza immigrated to the U.S. at age 27 to Indiana, she was pursuing the american dream, which over the last 30 years has dwarfed into an actual dream for formerly middle class people.

Carmen and her husband Robert lived, loved, and worked in East Chicago, Indiana, raising two daughters. Robert was a proud steelworker; Carmen a proud housewife who also cleaned offices around town.

Upon speaking with Carmen, who’s now a widow, I learned she began experiencing nose bleeds for the first time a few years upon moving to East Chicago. Her two daughters had chronic upper respiratory issues from early childhood, including bronchitis and sinus infections. Mood swings, anxiety, and occasional angry fits haunted several members of the family.

There was no family history for any of this.

What was the history? East Chicago was built and populated engulfed by lead: a lead smelting plant, lead emitters, decades-old lead pipes, and the DuPont Paint Factory.

Carmen, Robert and their children lived down the block from DuPont, which like most paint companies, helps spread beauty—along with lead-infused paint.

So, fresh off the crushing blow of losing Robert in February, Carmen received notice from the EPA that her home might be in an area with high lead levels. Around the same time, I reported in East Chicago for the first time, where the EPA official Brad Benning emphatically told me there was no issue with the East Chicago water.

In October, a crew of EPA workers dug up Carmen’s backyard soil checking for lead along with her kitchen sink water. High levels of lead was detected in Carmen’s drinking water, backyard soil, and basement.

When Carmen asked about whether she can shower safely, the EPA said yes. When she asked if they would be checking the home water heater, which is where hot shower water comes from, she was assured it wasn’t necessary.

That’s the same story thousands of citizens in Flint, Michigan, which despite the corporate media’s complete dereliction of duty to cover, is still a disaster zone with water that’s not safe to drink or bathe in—have been told. Governor Snyder has proclaimed water is safe to drink with a filter and showering/bathing as A-Ok.

But Chief Investigator at Water Defense and technology inventor, Scott Smith, who has experience and expertise in over 60 water contamination events, pushed the EPA to test home water heaters in Flint and water as it enters a home by the meter, since water from the distribution system to the water heaters are the central stream that feeds the rest of the house.

The EPA didn’t take his advice. 

In private testing of nearly 30 homes, Smith, who, unlike the EPA or the Michigan Department of Environment Quality—or those paid by the State of MI and/or EOA, who mainly tested at sinks for lead and copper, tested for the full gamut of harmful metals and chemicals, including arsenic, barium, phosphorous compounds, and mercury, found many different chemicals, including chloroform, a trihalomethane. Smith was joined in his testing by the Plumbers’ Union (Local 370 of the United States Association of Plumbers and Pieofitters).

After hearing Carmen’s crushing story of being a prisoner in her own home, fearful of what she touches or inhales, I consulted Scott, who offered his expertise to walk me through drawing water from Carmen’s home water heater and shower  myself (I dug up a fungi for good measure).

I found brownish/yellow water coming out of her home water heater—which is just two years old. This sample, along with others from her home and the one across the street the EPA didn’t test, are being sent out to a lab.

As Scott told me, the EPA not testing the water heaters and water as it enters a home by the meter in Flint and East Chicago is not responsible given the contamination history.

“The EPA is doing the best it can in an environment that is driven by false narratives driven by politics and being held hostage to PR firms,” he said.

“There are 3 human exposure pathways when it comes to water: ingestion(drinking), inhalation(shower/bathing), dermal/Skin(showering/bathing), Smith began.

“There are no bathing or showering standards – and what we have learned in Flint is that cold tap water is taken from a sink from a few homes and then all water is declared safe for all homes to drink/bath/shower by government agencies,” he said, adding that people in Flint still report a myriad of health issues from drinking and bathing in water.

“No definitive conclusions can be made without more thorough testing from more data points (from water meter to water heater to hot water in showers/baths) and looking for the complete spectrum of chemicals (including chloroform and other disinfection byproducts) and bacteria (the full spectrum of bacteria).

“If the water being delivered to a home is contaminated with chemicals of concern and/or bacteria or concern, it is going to then contaminate the water heater shower water – and for anyone to deny this, it is irresponsible,” he continued.

Yet, on December 12th, during a meeting between residents and East Chicago, officials, Gregory Crowley, Utilities Director for the City of East Chicago said: “The skin does not absorb lead, so bathing is an activity that you can continue to do without the concern of having to flush those lines. So when you think about showers and baths, there’s not a need to have to flush the lines for those activities.”

For good measure, he added, “I don’t view this as a crisis.”

Smith’s response to East Chicago officials and the EPA originally saying the water was safe to drink—and currently saying it’s safe to bathe, evoked his Holiness.

“The Pope could bless and deliver the purest Holy Water at the water treatment facility in East Chicago and that would mean nothing about the safety of bathing and showering in homes.”

But I thought anything His Holiness touches is pure!

Smith had the answer: “Testing this water at the treatment facility only and not downstream through the water distribution system [six-decade old lead pipes] and premise plumbing is meaningless because of potentially aging infrastructure that includes lead and galvanized pipes within the distribution system that can be compromised and cause.”

This potential compromise could produce more than toxic lead, but also other chemicals and bacteria, Smith noted.

If the test The Young Turks and water defense conducted in Carmen’s home—testing the water heater and the shower waster, which the EPA opted not to do—show high levels of lead or other bacteria, the EPA will have a lot of explaining to do.

So will incoming Vice President Mike Pence—who, as Governor of Indiana, didn’t go to East Chicago once after lead levels of more than 218 times the allowable limit were revealed in July.

Mainly on why the state of Indiana and East Chicago officials continued to build a neighborhood of low-income Latinos and African Americans surrounded by lead without modernizing and replacing aging lead pipes. Most importantly, on how they could have told residents the water is safe to drink and bathe in.

Most importantly, further IMMEDIATE investigation and EMERGENCY FUNDING AND TESTING need to go into place.


District 5 of the EPA oversees East Chicago, Indiana. Guess what other city they’re in charge of?

Flint, Michigan.

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