Residents in the West Calumet Complex in East Chicago got quite a shock over a month ago, when Department of Health officials began testing for lead poisoning and arsenic contamination.

…In a letter from the EPA dated July 11, 2016, [Shantel Allen] was informed that some parts of her yard had lead levels up to 66 times above the lead limit and 55 times above the arsenic limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. But what shocked her even more was that the letter said her “property was tested for lead and arsenic at the end of 2014.” Which means the test was somewhere in a lab, on a shelf, on a desk or getting processed for more than a year and a half before she learned of the danger she and her children were in.

“I was pregnant while in this complex — exposed to lead, sleeping on a contaminated bed, laying on a contaminated couch — nobody said anything. They kept this very well hidden from all of us,” Allen said.

The EPA is being targeted for at least some of blame in these exposures.

…Neither city officials nor EPA staffers have accepted blame for allowing the residents to stay in their homes for so long after the lead test results were known. East Chicago officials told NBC 5 that they weren’t aware of the EPA’s findings until May of this year.

East Chicago mayor [Anthony Copeland] blames the EPA’s Region 5, the same region that surveys Flint, Michigan, where toxic levels of lead had contaminated the city’s drinking water.

Given that Susan Hedman, the former director of EPA’s Region 5, wrote that Flint wasn’t “worth going out on a limb for,” in a memo, there is ample reason why the East Chicago mayor might not feel his city was deemed worthy of environmental protection from the agency that was suppose to provide it.

The West Calumet complex was built in 1972, in the area of the former Anaconda Lead Products Co. site after it was demolished. The EPA began sampling all of the Calumet area in 2008, and their findings prompted the placement of the site on the Superfund priority list for remediation.

…Mulch had been spread over the ground in their neighborhood to cover up the lead-contaminated soil.

“It’s actually a perfect storm of lead contamination,” Allen’s attorney Barry Rooth told CNN.

“The wind actually blows that lead right across the property and deposits it right where the residents live.”

In light of the newest batch of testing, residents are now being relocated.

…The EPA is working with residents to clean the interior of their homes as they wait for emergency permanent relocation assistance to move from the housing complex after it was learned earlier this summer the ground on which the complex was built is contaminated with lead and arsenic.

Soil testing by the EPA showed lead amounts in the top six inches of soil around some of the homes more than 12 times the acceptable limit for residential soil.

A CBS Local video offers a glimpse of the testing procedures:

Given that the testing to deem it a Superfund site was done in 2008, and given the levels observed in 2016, one has to wonder why people were allowed to live in those buildings during the past 8 years.

Let’s hope Allen, her children, and the other residents haven’t been harmed by their exposures.


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