More than 30 East Chicago homeowners last week sued several companies the federal government holds responsible for toxic industrial contamination.
Those companies include DuPont, Atlantic Richfield, British Petroleum, U.S.S. Lead and Mueller Industries.
The lawsuit alleges those companies caused property loss to residents who live in a lead-contaminated Superfund site and that, “[f]or decades, Defendants’ lead smelting, lead refining, and other manufacturing processes wreaked environmental havoc in the Calumet neighborhood of East Chicago.”
David Chizewer is an attorney with the law firm Goldberg Kohn, which represents the residents pro bono. He says the residents live near a public housing complex that the city evacuated because of extremely high lead contamination.
“People who own the homes are saying, ‘Hey, we live right across the street,’ in many cases, from the public housing project, ‘we must be facing severe risks as well,’” he says.
The residents also allege damage from emotional distress.
“When your homes are contaminated with lead and arsenic, and knowing the health problems that are associated with that, certainly causes people emotional distress,” Chizewer says.
The companies responsible for funding the cleanup have been conspicuously absent from years of community cleanup meetings, says Chizewer. He hopes the lawsuit changes that pattern.
“Fear of liability is no excuse for silence or inaction,” he says.
A spokesperson for DuPont said in an email the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.
An Atlantic Richfield spokesperson said, in an emailed statement, “While Atlantic Richfield never owned operated [sic] a facility on the East Chicago site, we have worked cooperatively with the EPA for many years on the EPA-directed remediation efforts at the site. However, we believe the claims at issue that have been brought against Atlantic Richfield are not supported by law.”
Annie Ropeik contributed reporting.