Over the last week, the Valpo community has banded together in order to help out with the East Chicago, Ind. water crisis.
The water in East Chicago, a town only 40 minutes from Valpo, is contaminated with lead, affecting more than 1,000 families. English professor Martin Buinicki is heading the movement on campus to donate clean water.
“After the election, I decided to get more involved in my community,” Buinicki said.
This push for involvement led him to Blue Valpo, an organization working to help bring relief to those in need of water in East Chicago, and where Buinicki first learned about the lead crisis, now recognized by the state.
“Governor Holcomb made a disaster declaration,” Buinicki said.
Former Governor Mike Pence, while aware of the lead crisis, didn’t declare it a disaster while still in office. Now that it’s been declared, however, efforts to bring relief are fully underway at the state level. Buinicki said there’s legislation making way through the Indiana House.
In the meantime, however, there is much to do in order to help the thousands affected by the lack of safe water in the East Chicago community.
According to Sam Henderson of the Hoosier Environmental Council, there are three neighborhoods in East Chicago that are the most deeply impacted -- West Calumet, Calumet and East Calumet.
“The contamination on the site is dominated by high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil,” he said.
He said that lead affects the entire body, and people of all ages. The effects can range from nausea and abdominal pain to much more serious conditions, such as anemia, depression and even intellectual and behavioral disabilities in children.
“These are families living in really difficult conditions,” Buinicki said.
His concern for these families is what led him to start the water drive on campus. He then reached out to University Pastor James Wetzstein, and the leadership teams of SALT and Sigma Tau Delta. The organizations were more than willing to help, and the push went out to campus to help collect clean water for the East Chicago families most impacted by the crisis.
The call for water donations went out last week. Buinicki also spoke to Father Chris at St. Teresa of Avila and arranged for St. T’s to be a drop-off location for cases of water, along with in front of the bookstore at the Harre Union.
The drive, which runs through Friday, Feb. 17 at the bookstore, was highly successful last week in procuring water for East Chicago. Last Saturday, Feb. 11, Valpo donated 36 cases from the bookstore drop-off and over 100 cases from the St. T’s drop-off. Buinicki, SALT and Sigma Tau Delta were also able to plan with Dining Services which allowed students to donate from their meal plans and have Dining Services purchase water on their behalf.
“It’s not a permanent solution,” Buinicki said. However, every contribution counts in the efforts to give the affected families safe drinking water.
Another goal of the water drive is to raise awareness for the situation in East Chicago, which has not received as much attention as similar crises elsewhere, like the lead crisis in Flint, Mich.
“There hasn’t been the same kind of noise about what’s going on here,” Buinicki said.
However, students were eager to help out and donate water to those in need in East Chicago.
“That’s one of the great things about this place - everyone wants to help,” he said.
Although the drive only runs through Friday, Feb. 17 in front of the bookstore, St. T’s will remain an open drop-off location.