About 100 East Chicago residents and activists rallied and marched Wednesday while EPA head Scott Pruitt visited the city's lead-contaminated neighborhoods.
Protesters said they were demanding that the government take steps to clean up homes and address water and soil contamination, which last year forced the closure of a public housing complex that left nearly 1,000 residents in search of new homes.
After touring neighborhoods plagued with high concentrations of lead and arsenic in the soil, Pruitt met with five East Chicago residents who shared their experiences dealing with the city's contaminated water and soil.
Participants at the rally, organized by East Chicago's Community Strategy Group, said they did not expect to meet with Pruitt, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead an agency he critcized regularly while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general. Trump has proposed a 31-percent cut to the EPA's budget that would inevitably weaken clean-up efforts in places such as East Chicago.
"We didn't invite him to meet with us," said Jessica Fujan, Midwest regional director for environmental group Food and Water Watch. "We're not particularly impressed with Mr. Pruitt."
Below, more photos from the march and rally.
East Chicago resident Thomas Frank, above right, speaks during the rally. He was one of five East Chicago residents who met with Pruitt.
Frank said though Pruitt listened carefully during the meeting, he did not commit to additional EPA resources toward remediation efforts or other clean-up work in East Chicago.
"There was no back and forth," Frank said. "Each resident had a statement. There was no set commitment. He kind of responded to a few comments. He did say that this is not about money; it's about fixing the problem."
The Rev. Cheryl Rivera speaks during Wednesday's rally in East Chicago.
"We will not tolerate it," Rivera said. "We are here because we are demanding justice. We want full funding for the EPA."
East Chicago residents and activists protest Pruitt's visit Wednesday to the city's lead-contaminated neighborhoods.
"You want us to drink the water, Scott Pruitt? You drink it first!" one protester said during the rally.
Lori Latham and her 3-year-old son, Lennon, join the march. Latham, who lives in neighboring Gary, said she has been boiling water for the past week since a spill at a nearby U.S. Steel site that released a carcinogenic chemical into area water sources.
"I told him we were going to fight for our rights," Latham said about explaining the rally to her son.
East Chicago resident Tremaine Cooley, left, watched Wednesday's march with his family from outside their home on McCook Avenue, where he has lived since 2000.
The soil at the family's home has been tested, but Cooley said he didn't know how much lead or other contaminants were found.
"Nobody wants to relocate," said Cooley's relative Pamela Worlds, right. "This is your home, your roots."
East Chicago residents and activists rallied outside an elementary school where Pruitt met with five residents who shared their experiences with the city's contaminated water and soil.
EPA head Scott Pruitt exits an elementary school where he met with five East Chicago residents, including Thomas Frank.
Scott Pruitt speaks briefly to media after touring East Chicago's lead-contaminated neighborhoods Wednesday. Pruitt did not answer questions from reporters about his visit.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland speaks Wednesday.
In September, Copeland announced plans to demolish the West Calumet Housing Complex because of lead contamination, leaving about 1,000 residents in search of new homes.
"It is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, to tell people to leave their homes," Copeland said. "But I know that there was more harm that could have happened to them."
Follow Alex Ruppenthal on Twitter: @arupp
April 19: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told residents in East Chicago on Wednesday that the agency had no plans to close its Chicago office.
March 20: Cuts to the EPA’s budget would affect a disproportionate number of minority and low-income residents in Chicago, experts say.
March 20: Looking at the impact of a proposed cut of all funding to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes.