Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) in East Chicago:

Environmental Justice Case Study

Erin King

Scott TenBrink

Jon Gunther

Deepti Reddy

Amy MacDonnald

Shanna Wheeler


A study done by the US Federal Government found that 3 out of 4 hazardous waste disposal facilities are cited in low-income, minority communities.  These communities often lack the political power necessary to keep these waste facilities out of their neighborhoods.  Even worse, many of these communities are never involved in the planning of the waste facilities (Bryant, 2003). 








            The Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, in East Chicago, has become heavily polluted with toxic chemicals, waste and sediment.  It has had major impacts on the local wildlife and water quality in and around the canal (7).  As a result, the US Army Corp of Engineers have proposed a plan to dredge the canal and place all dredged sediment in a Confined Disposal Facility (CDF), located in downtown East Chicago.  The site chosen is an abandoned oil refinery that is already considered a polluted site by Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (12).  The citizens of East Chicago are outraged that the site for the CDF is located just 800 yards from two local schools, East Chicago Central High and Westside Junior High.  The facility is also being placed in a low-income, minority community made up of mostly African American and Hispanic/Latino, which has caused much concern with environmental justice advocates.  The community has both short and long term concerns with the CDF.  Their short-term concerns pertain to the transfer of the dredged sediment from the point of the dredging to the Confined Disposal Facility.  During the transfer there will be volatile gases and particles coming from the sludge when it is shipped to the CDF.  There is the potential that this will negatively affect the citizens’ health, as many of the chemicals are well known toxins including PCB’s, Benzene and Naphthalene.  Long-term concerns involve the fact that the dredging will take place over the next thirty years, which means a constant exposure to air emissions given off by the dredged material (5). The health risks are the most important concern the community has, especially the possible effects of the toxic chemicals on their children.  Along with health concerns, citizens are outraged that they were not a part of the decision process.  In addition, the community groups believe that the US Army Corp chose this site because they anticipated little resistance from the community.                                                                                                                                                                                        

  (East Chicago Central High)





            The Grand Calumet River is located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan and flows through the cities of Hammond, Gary and East Chicago, Indiana.  The river has been used for industrial processes and was envisioned to be a discharge waterway for plants along the river.  The Indiana Harbor Ship Canal was added to the Grand Calumet River in order to allow easier discharge of the 150 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment that flood Lake Michigan every day (7).  Both the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor Ship Canal have been extensively used by ships and as dump sites for local industries since the beginning (15).

Prior to 1972, the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal had been dredged yearly in order to maintain passageway for ships.  The US Army Corp of Engineers must maintain inland navigability and so sediment from the Harbor was dredged annually and placed in the deep waters of Lake Michigan.  As of 1972, the Clean Water Act prohibited the placement of toxic dredged material in Lake Michigan.  As a result, the Canal has not been dredged in nearly 30 years (1).

Presently the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal is only 8 feet compared to the once 35-foot deep canal.  As the years pass, not only is the canal becoming more polluted with toxic chemicals, but the cost of removing the sediment is increasing (1).  It is expected that the CDF will hold 4.67 million cubic yards of sediment that contains 77,000 pounds of chromium, 100,000 pounds of lead and 429 pounds of PCBs (7).  Due to the expense of treating the contaminated sediments, the US Army Corp has decided to store the sediment in a Confined Disposal Facility.  Various proposals have been made regarding the placement of the sediment over the past thirty years, yet none have been accepted until East Chicago.  With increasing pressure from industry, the EPA and rising costs of cleanup, the dredging of the canal is inevitable.  The major question is:  where should the toxic sediment is placed?


CDF Site Selection   


In 1994, the US Army Corp of Engineers announced the placement of the Confined Disposal Facility in East Chicago.  The site location, an abandoned oil refinery originally owned by Energy Cooperative Inc., was chosen to because of its need for cleanup.  The ECI site was first acquired by Lake County, IN as a result of bankruptcy.  Under RCRA, the site was to be cleaned up with costs totaling $37 million.  The land was then purchased by a reality firm, and eventually turned over to the city of East Chicago.  Today, the site is still in need of cleanup and the US Army Corp of Engineers plans to use the CDF as a means of cleaning up the contaminated ECI site (1).

The cleanup of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal is expected to last 30 years at a cost of $127 million.  Working two to three shifts a day, the project will begin in 2005 and end in 2035 when the site is covered and capped by clay, sand and topsoil.  There is an estimated 4.7 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment in both the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal and the Grand Calumet River (1).  There will be four air monitoring stations on site located in the north, south, east and west corners and one monitoring site will be located at East Chicago High School (14).



                                                                                            (Indiana Ship and Harbor Canal)


Dredging Process


            There are two different methods for which the canal could be dredged.  The one chosen for this project is less expensive and involves mechanical removal of the sediment and sludge.  A crane uses a covered bucket in which the material is gathered and then delivered to the CDF.  The alternative method is hydraulic dredging which pumps the contaminated sediment through a pipeline where it is directly taken and discharged at the CDF (6).  Opponents of the CDF are more comfortable with the second dredging technique because of the reduction in air emissions associated with transporting the uncovered material to the CDF site.  Although hydraulic dredging is more expensive, community groups feel it will lessen the impact of air emissions over the thirty-year period.  


Costs and Funding of Project


            Total project costs equal $129 million dollars and is a partnership between the East Chicago Waterway Management District and the US Army Corp of Engineers.  East Chicago will pay 35% of the costs, 21% will come from local industries along the canal and the rest will come from the federal government.  In the end, the government will end up paying $105,000,000 out of $129,000,000 for the costs of dredging.  As for health risk assessments, the city has put forth $50,000 for the EPA to conduct risk assessments to ensure the safety of the project (12).  Claims have been made that the project will be financed on a year-to-year basis and that the Army Corp feels that the CDF is “primarily” a local expense (1).


Toxic Chemicals Involved


            The main toxic chemicals found in the toxic sediment are PCBs, Benzene, Toluene, Lead, Chromium, Barium, Naphthalene, Phenanthene and Fluorine.  The following table lists the potential threats that these toxic chemicals can present (2).  The EPA’s original risk assessment took these toxins into account but failed to run the tests on children who are a more susceptible population.  East Chicago is an already heavily polluted city in addition to the potential air emissions the CDF may cause.  



Affects the central nervous system; known to cause anemia, leukemia, etc.; exposure route through inhalation or ingestion


Stored in adipose tissues; known to cause reproductive and developmental problems, endocrine, hepatic and immunologic problems


Affects red blood cells and children are more susceptible to toxicity


Affects central nervous system, kidneys and reproductive health; known to affect mental cognition and thought to cause learning problems in children


Affects liver, kidneys and central nervous system; can cause respiratory and heart problems


 Community Concerns


            The following are all concerns that community members have had with the placement of the CDF in East Chicago:

·        Close proximity of two schools

·        Potential threats toxins pose, especially long term exposures to children

·        Longevity of dredging

·        Air emissions

·        Facility will not be capped until thirty years after start date

·        Potential leaks

·        Accumulative affect on air quality as well as health effects

·        Concerns over property values decreasing

·        Funding of potential disasters

·        Environmental injustice



Timeline of Events


1902: Indiana Harbor Ship Canal was built


1902-1972:  Dredged sediment from the canal was dumped in the deep waters of Lake Michigan


1972:  The passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA), prohibiting the dumping of toxic material into Lake Michigan


1972-present:  The Indiana Harbor Ship Canal has not been dredged and an accumulation of toxic chemicals, waste and sediment has built up


1972-present:  Issues of dredging and where to keep the sediment have been a topic of concern since the passage of the CWA


1975-present:  Army Corp of Engineers work on formulating an environmental and economically achievable plan to dispose of the dredged material without affecting human health.  A Comprehensive Management Plan is prepared.


1987:  The International Joint Commission listed the Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal as one of forty Areas of Concern (AOC) around the Great Lakes (11).


1987: the same year a community member recommends the ECI site.


1992-1993:  Rough draft of the Comprehensive Management Plan is prepared.


1994:  The US Army Corp of Engineers chose the former ECI site as the site for the Confined Disposal Facility in East Chicago (13).





Citizens for a Clean Environment:  community group involved in the CDF who represents a strong fight against the placement of the site in East Chicago.  They believe most importantly that this is an environmental justice case.  Organized by Betty Balanoff.


Calumet Project:  community group who has been working with other groups through the Northwestern Indiana Environmental Justice Partnership.  Together they have been spreading awareness on this issue through website links and public meetings.  Executive director is Kim Scipes.


East Chicago Waterway Management District:  joint sponsors for the project and also helping to fund the CDF, along with the US Army Corp of Engineers. They have been attending public meetings on the project.


US Army Corp of Engineers:  responsible for the oversight of navigable waters, including the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.  They are in partnership with the East Chicago Waterway Management District in sponsoring the CDF project.  They are the leaders of the project in development, building and handling of the dredging process. 


Environmental Protection Agency:  carrying out risk assessments on air quality in and around East Chicago as well as attending meetings to hear citizens concerns.


Indiana Department of Environmental Management:  Issues permits to the US Army Corp to develop and plan the project.


Northwestern Indiana Environmental Justice Partnership:  the main objectives are to educate and empower people to create awareness about environmental justice issues in the region.  Both the Calumet Project and Citizens for a Clean Environment are part of NWIEJP, and as a result they have been able to gain support from such groups as NAACP, Healthy Visions Midwest and Gary Neighborhood Services.






            According to the 2000 US Census Bureau the total population of East Chicago was 32,414.  Of this figure 3,922 were white (12.1%), 11,405 were African American (35.2%), 16,728 were Hispanic or Latino (51.6%) and 349 were other people of color (1.1%).  The total combined population of minorities is 87.9% (5).  



            In addition to being a primarily minority community, the city has also seen an economic downfall as many of the steel industries are going out of business.  This leaves many people out of work and unemployed.  Often time communities of low income do not have the political force to keep environmental hazards out of their neighborhoods.  It is especially hard for these communities to have a say in anything when they are not even included in the planning process.  This is what happened here in East Chicago and as a result the entire community, as well as environmental justice groups, is battling the placement of the Confined Disposal Facility (CDF).






Education and Awareness

            The community of E. Chicago has been able to gather large public awareness around the issue.  They have done this by holding public rallies, sending out newsletters and participating in lectures around the state at various universities.  They also have been utilizing the media to educate people about the possible dangers of constructing a CDF near two schools.  Many of the groups, such as the Citizens for a Clean Environment and the Calumet Project, have constructed web sites to help educate people.  The Calumet project also has been sending out electronic newsletters to keep people in the community up-dated on the most recent developments in their struggle against the CDF.  The efforts of the community have also received a large amount of attention from local and regional papers.  The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, two large papers that reach many people in both Illinois and Indiana, have ran articles this year on the on-going fight that the community has put up.  The community groups have been communicating and consulting each other, as well as other members of the community.  They have gone to churches and after-school programs to increase support. They also have been working with the PTA (Parents and Teachers Association) and have received the support of local unions.  


 The 1997 formation of the North-Western Indiana Environmental Justice Partnership (NWIEJP) has enabled the community to work with other regional groups as well as universities to help spread awareness about what is going on in E. Chicago.  Through the partnership, groups like the Calumet Project, Citizens for a Clean Environment as well as individuals opposed to the CDF have been able to work with groups like Healthy Visions Midwest, the Lake County Minority Health Coalition, the Gary branch of the NAACP and Gary Neighborhood Services.  This has enabled the community to get a broad range of people with similar interests to help support them in their fight.   The NWIEJP has held lecture series and workshops at Notre-Dame and Indiana University Northwest.  Betty Balanoff from Citizens for a Clean Environment, Kim Scipes from the Calumet project and Bryan Bullock an attorney with the Gary NAACP have all given lectures at universities in an attempt to gain support and share ideas with others.  The NWIEJP’s main goal is to educate and empower the community.

.  The community has also tried to bring national attention to their case, but so far they have not received any.  The community has tried to get help from nationally known environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.  The national groups that the community has tried to attract either do not have the time and money or simply are not interested in environmental justice issues.  The community leaders would like to see the same kind of focus given to wildlife conservation and land preservation given to environmental justice issues. 

Working with others

 The groups’ close workings with universities have proven to be very valuable.  Graduate students from Northwestern University, in Evansville, Illinois, have performed independent studies on possible chemical leaks from the CDF that contradict what the US Army Corps is telling the community.  The community also has made use of the Chicago-Law Clinic at the Chicago-Kent College of Law in examining how the monitoring of the CDF will be taken care of.  Members of the Michigan State Technical Outreach Services Communities (TOSC) have helped the community understand the technicalities of the project.  The community is also receiving assistance from the Midwest Hazardous Substance Research Center at Purdue University, located in Lafayette to help in their understanding of regulations in regards to the CDF.  All of this help has made meeting between the community and the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers more productive for the citizens.  They are able to ask questions and talk with the representatives from the Army Corps and the EPA on the same level, using the same language.  In the past, the community felt that the EPA and the Army Corps had dismissed their concerns because they were not speaking in technical terms.  By working with universities they have been able to ask more informed questions to the EPA and the Army Corps.

 Through their work with university groups the citizens of E. Chicago learned that the risk assessment done by the EPA looked at 25-year-old males and how they would be affected by the CDF.   The community’s main concern over the CDF is its close location to two public schools and what its effects will be on the children.  They felt a study on the impact of the CDF on healthy 25-year-old males did not address their concerns.  The citizens of E. Chicago brought this to the attention of the EPA and were successful in getting them to re-do their risk assessment.  At the time of this report the community was still waiting for those results. 

 Citizens for a Clean Environment have spearheaded a petition against the location of any CDF within a mile of a school. They took the petition to not only residents of E. Chicago but also to residents in surrounding cities such as Hammond, Gary and Chesterton.  They have gotten a lot of support from people living in the region and have even received support from people living in locations that were rejected for the CDF.  The City Counsel of Hammond unanimously passed a resolution in opposition of the CDF location in E. Chicago.  The community has been effective in not only uniting together, but in uniting people from the surrounding area.


Keeping Momentum

 The community also has not let up on its fight against the CDF.  The mayor has given his support to the project and the Army Corps. of Engineers is in the preliminary stages of cleaning up the site by constructing underground slurry walls to help contain the pollutants already present.  The community is pleased with this, as they feel it is something that needed to be done all along, but they do not want to see any more construction on the site. More money is also being put into the construction fund, and pending the new risk assessment from the EPA, construction is planned to begin as early as nest spring.  The community is still holding public meeting and just this October held another series of lectures at Notre Dame on the environmental injustice in their region.  They remain optimistic that their efforts will make a difference.






            The citizens of E. Chicago are not opposed to the dredging of the Indiana Ship and Harbor Canal.  They do have a problem with the site location.  To them the only solution is to not build the CDF.  The community would also like to see a change in the way the EPA conducts its risk assessments.  They would like more of a focus on the cumulative effects rather than looking at the CDF individually.  They would like the EPA to look at the additional burden the CDF will place on the community that already has problems with air pollution, instead of only looking at the possible emissions from the CDF separately.  The citizens also feel that the dredging project will not even fix any of the problems that it is supposed to.  Right now the plans are for a partial dredging of the canal, which some argue will only stir up toxins and reveal even more heavily polluted sediment.  If the Army Corps is going to dredge the canal, the community would like to see the job done right, not just quick and cost-effectively.  They also would like to see the Army Corps use a hydrologic dredging method, instead of the mechanical method they are planning to use.  The hydrological method would minimize the risk of the toxins in the sediment from entering the air during the transportation process.  There are new technologies that allow for the eradication of PCBs.  This kind of technology is expensive and new, but the residents of E. Chicago feel this would be a better alternative to putting their children at risk. 






            The citizens of E. Chicago have been effective in educating and spreading awareness around this issue.  They have made use of the media and have joined forces with other groups.  They also have sought out scientific advice from universities and have conducted their own research on the CDF and its possible effects on the communities.  Currently, Bryan Bullock of the Gary NAACP is considering filing a lawsuit in an attempt to halt the construction.  Legal action could be a possible option that the community groups have not looked into.  However, this may be a very time consuming and drawn-out process.  Often it is hard to prove a direct correlation between a polluter and community health concerns, especially if the polluter, which in this case would be the CDF, is not yet in operation.  On the state level there seems to be little involvement.  The community could try to bring the issue to the attention of the state government. It also would be helpful if the community came up with an alternative to the current location of the CDF.  They feel that that is not their job, but if they could present the Army Corps with a reasonable alternative they might be able to reach some sort of compromise. 


                                                   (U.S. Army Corp. of Engineer employee at the E. Chicago CDF site)






 Betty Balanoff

Citizens for a Clean Environment

1447 Michigan

Hammond, IN 46320

Tel- 219-931-9791


William Hill

Gary Neighborhood Services



Dr. Earl Jones

Professor at IUN and founder of NWIEJP

Tel  219-980-6704



Sister Anne Marie Kampuerth

Healthy Visions Midwest

Tel 219-397-4335


Mary Mulligan

City of Gary, Environmental Affairs Dept.

Tel 219-881-5075

Northwest Indiana Residents for Clean Air

P.O. box 217

Hammond, IN 46325

Tel 219-931-9791


William Payonk

Calumet Project

7182 Arizona Ave

Hammond IN

Tel- 219-980-5008


Lynne Whelan

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs

Chicago office

111 N. Canal Street Suite 600

Chicago, Il 60606

 Tel 312-353-6400  Ext. 1300



Carl Wolf

North West Indiana Environmental Justice Partnership

Tel 219-980-6704


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Region 5

77 W. Jackson Blvd.

Chicago, Il 60604

Tel 312-353-1149-  (public affairs line)






1.  A Committee for a Clean Environment:  History of Indiana Harbor Ship Canal updated Feb. 2, 2002.



2.  ATSDR: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, updated Oct. 30, 2003. 



3.  Chicago Sun-Times: E. Chicago Residents Unload on Toxic-Dump Plan by Cathleen Falsani, Apr. 27, 2003



4.  Chicago Triune On-Line:  Dredging Plan Stirs Up Debate: East Chicago Torn Over Canal Work by Julie Deardorff, Feb. 24, 2003



5.  Citizens for a Clean Environment:  Confined Disposal Facility in East Chicago, Indiana, updated Sept. 16, 2003.



6.  Indiana University Northwest:  Dredging: Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, updated Oct. 30, 2003.



7.  Midwest Hazardous Substance Research Center Outreach Programs for Communities:  Indiana Harbor Ship Canal, Indiana Site Overview, 2001 Hazardous Substance Research Center, Michigan State University.



8.  Activists Tag Dredged Project on Health by Michael Puente, Apr. 3, 2003



9.  Dredging Project Gets College Scruntiny by Michael Puente, Apr. 3, 2003



10.  Study, Dredged Sediment Dangerous by Michael Puente, Apr. 3, 2003



11.  Quinn, B & Gadzala, J.  2000.  Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat News.  The Newsletter of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund: vol 8(2)


12.  US Army Corp of Engineers, Chicago District:  Indiana Harbor and Canal Confined Disposal Facility: Frequently Asked Questions, Jan. 2000.



13.  US Army Corp of Engineers, Chicago District:  Chronology, updated Sept. 30, 2003.



14.  US Army Corp of Engineers, Chicago District: location map.



15.  US Environmental Protection Agency:  Grand Calumet Area of Concern, updated Oct. 30, 2003.