East Chicago Housing Project Exposed to High Levels of Lead

Families in an East Chicago, Indiana housing project may have been exposed to lead and arsenic for decades.

While the United States Environmental Protection Agency found hotspots in 2008, the community was only recently notified of contamination. Last month, the residents of West Calumet Housing Complex learned the soil surrounding the complex contains staggering levels of lead.

About 1,100 poor, largely black West Calumet residents, including 670 children, are being forced to evacuate. The source of the lead is the former lead smelting plant located nearby. The complex was added to an EPA priority cleanup list in 2009.

Soil was removed twice from the area after rounds of limited testing. By 2012, the EPA had a cleanup plan that involved removing all the contaminated soil from the complex. However, testing to see which soil was contaminated didn’t start until two years later.

Many residents are comparing this disaster to the Flint water crisis. Many residents are left wondering why the government didn’t inform them sooner of the contamination.

The mayor’s decision to destroy the building and close an adjacent elementary school disrupted the EPA’s plans to remove contaminated soil without displacing residents, but they reportedly respect the mayor’s decision.

Residents are mainly asking why they were not informed about the contaminated soil that their children were playing in until last month. The soil had 30 times more lead than what is considered safe for children to play in. It also had hazardous levels of arsenic.

Lead is a dangerous chemical that damages the brain’s of children. It can affect anybody, but it’s especially dangerous to children who are still growing and developing.

Lead can also be dangerous to unborn babies because it can cross over from the mother’s blood supply to her developing baby in the uterus. Babies exposed to lead tend to be born premature and have lower birth weights. Lead may disrupt mitochondrial functioning, synapse formation, and neurotransmitter release in the developing brain.

Children with lead poisoning may have low IQ, learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactive and antisocial behavior and impaired hearing. In adults, lead poisoning may manifest itself as muscle and joint pain, digestion problems, memory and concentration problems, high blood pressure, headaches, and dizziness.

The building in East Chicago was built in 1972. Some older residents resented the building closure, but some younger residents couldn’t wait to move.

Shantel Allen, who has lived at the complex for five years, said tests showed that all of her five children had alarmingly high levels of lead. She had been told her yard had some of the highest lead and arsenic levels. Her children are showing symptoms, such as headaches and vomiting. She wants to keep her kids in the same school, but the reality is she may have to move from the area.

Meanwhile, the parents at the complex are just trying to protect their kids from the lead and arsenic in the soil. But it is hard to explain to their children why they can’t play outside.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Indiana State Department of Health announced that they are providing a total of $200,000 to the East Chicago Housing Authority and the East Chicago Health Department to help the residents.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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