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‘Climate injustice is here’: Protesters voice frustration during EPA Pruitt’s East Chicago visit

Protesters gathered in East Chicago to protest the Environmental Protection Agency and a visit from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. April 19, 2017. (John Smierciak / Post-Tribune)

A group of more than 100 environmentalists rallied Wednesday with a laundry list of concerns over the East Chicago lead contamination and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with elected leaders from the city and state nearby.

"We are here in the West Calumet complex because injustice is here in East Chicago," the Rev. Cheryl Rivera said. "We are here because environmental racism is here. We are here because climate injustice is here. We are here because thousands of families’ lives are at risk."

While the led contamination in East Chicago was a matter of contention for the protesters, they gathered primarily to express their frustration with the EPA as a whole and to confront Pruitt as he visited East Chicago Wednesday morning.

After a brief rally inside the West Calumet Housing Complex, the protesters marched through the surrounding streets with a relentless salvo of chants lamenting their frustrations with the use of fossil fuels, concerns of East Chicago’s water, the EPA and President Donald Trump’s administration.

"We hope to get our voices out there and put some pressure on the administration and let Trump’s administration know we aren’t going to stand for this," Chicago resident Anne Joseph said.

After marching the protesters stopped in front of Carrie Gosch Elementary School, where they hoped to confront Pruitt. They never got that chance as East Chicago police stopped the group from walking on school property. Later, Pruitt made a short statement, but did not take questions.

The organizers of the rally called for the EPA to enact more thorough cleanup of the sites that tested positive for lead contamination, further testing of the water in East Chicago and lifelong health care by those who were exposed to the contamination in East Chicago.

"When we look at West Calumet and East Chicago we’re looking at a toxic secret that’s been kept for a long time," East Chicago resident Thomas Frank said. "And we have toxic politics that allowed this secret. So we’re not looking for an incremental shift, but rather we’re looking for a whole shift in the paradigm in how we address these issues."

As East Chicago residents and local organizers try to pressure EPA for more resources and assistance, West Calumet resident Demetra Turner said the community and local activists’ must continue fighting. About 1,000 East Chicago residents have been displaced since last summer due to lead contamination.

"We’ve got to keep pushing," she said. "We’ve got to make our voice heard. And we’ve got to let them know we’re not going anywhere."

Twitter @JavonteA