SPECIAL REPORT: October 24, 2015

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The demolition of the derelict Ambassador Hotel near downtown Gary is seen as sign of progress, but it could prove toxic for the neighbors and workers. Carcinogenic silica dust is flying all over the immediate neighborhood of 7th and Monroe, and a concerned observer we encountered says only in a poor, Black community would such practice be tolerated.

On Saturday, 24 October, as the Heat, Light, and Water Project photoclub conducted their regular documentation of the demolition we were approached by a gentleman named Gregory Hines, a carpenter in the Gary schools. Mr. Hines has been monitoring and recording toxic and possibly illegal practices by the company contracted for the demolition, Gary Material Supply, LLC. He informed us he succeeded in getting the company to agree to halt demolition during school hours but issues like the lack of independent air quality monitoring, the anomie of public officials, and the fear that asbestos had not been fully and properly abated and is now floating thru the neighborhood air into neighbors lungs had him clearly frustrated. A mere block west of the demolition site sits Jefferson Elementary School and a GHA senior’s highrise.

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A major criticism Mr. Hines pointed out was the lack of water streams to damped the dust and prevent it from becoming airborne. Instead the company is using a mist machine with a spray so weak the southerly winds diverted the moisture mere feet from where it left the machine. As floors and supports came crashing down large billows of dust clouds were caught in the 15-20 mph winds, obscuring the houses north of the demolition site.

We soon attracted the company’s attention, and a young worker approached telling us it was fine to take pictures but we were parked illegally on a closed road. The barrier and sign at 6th and Madison had been removed, bits of it laying in a crumpled pile on the corner. The young worker immediately called the police when Mr. Hines stated we were on a public street. The photoclub members left, and I removed myself to the next block to watch from a friend’s yard, to make sure everyone was able to leave safely. The police never came.

As noted in the 2014 report from the Hoosier Environmental Council, there is “no staffed organization, non-profit or otherwise, dedicated to addressing the Region’s serious environmental injustices… there is not one organization giving its full attention to providing legal and technical assistance to these northwest Indiana communities’ complex and intertwined environmental problems.” Anyone concerned about this situation is invited to meet at Borman Park, 7th and Madison, next Saturday, 31 October, at 10am.

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