Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gov't Officials' Knowledge Of Lead Contamination At Site Of 40-Year Old East Chicago Public Housing Complex Dates Back Decades; Premises Currently Remains Under Evacuation Order Affecting Over 1,000 Last-To-Be Informed Residents (Including About 700 Kids)

In East Chicago, Indiana, the Post-Tribune reports:
  • When the mayor in this industrial town ordered the evacuation of a 40-year-old public-housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, many people wondered: How could the problem have been overlooked for so long?

    The complex, in a blighted corner of Indiana just across from Chicago, had been built on ground once occupied by a lead-products factory. Some yards had lead levels more than 70 times the federal safety standard.

    The abrupt order to remove more than 1,000 residents, including about 700 children, made headlines across the country.

    But it turns out the hazard wasn't — or shouldn't have been — a surprise to anyone in public office in East Chicago or responsible for the safety of the West Calumet Housing Complex.

    A review of public documents and news coverage dating back to the 1960s shows officials at half a dozen local, state and federal agencies were aware residents were living on and playing in lead-tainted soil, though some of the most alarming readings weren't widely known until recently.

    In 1985, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management found elevated lead levels in yards just east of the complex, according to department records. The same year, the Indiana Department of Health found high lead levels in blood samples of some residents' children. Even at low levels, exposure can cause nervous system damage and lowered IQs, according to experts.

    In 2008, an EPA memo described "an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health, welfare and the environment."

    Instead of prompting urgent action, the situation in East Chicago instead became an example of how longstanding problems can linger indefinitely in some industrial hubs and how environmental cleanups are often grindingly slow, hamstrung by high costs and the fact that the companies responsible for the pollution have long since gone out of business.

    "It's mind-boggling. You have so many people who could have and should have done something," said state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, an East Chicago native who's represented the city since 2008. "The bottom line is somebody just didn't care."

    The history and local politics of East Chicago, a poor, largely black and Hispanic community of about 30,000, also played a role. People were unlikely to complain about factories that provided their livelihood, some here say, and the town's top public officials have often been corrupt.

    The housing authority director who chose the site in the late 1960s was indicted years later for taking kickbacks from the developer who built the project, records show. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and agreed to testify against other defendants.

    Two of the last three mayors were convicted of corruption. The third, defeated in 2004 after serving more than 30 years, was cited in a malfeasance lawsuit against the city administration that resulted in a $108 million judgment.

    The city councilman for the project has been jailed since last fall on a murder charge.

    The evacuation order came in the wake of a highly publicized scandal in Flint, Michigan, where local and state officials were accused of making a lax response to lead contamination of the local water supply. Nine have been charged or taken plea deals after an attorney general's investigation.
    West Calumet residents, meanwhile, are struggling to find new places to live with the HUD vouchers they received, but tenants say some landlords won't rent to housing project residents.

    Shantel Allen, whose yard is one of the most contaminated, said she's been notified that her 2-year-old daughter's blood lead levels were six times beyond what the Centers for Disease Control considers concerning.

    Allen, who's married and has four other children, says the family's health problems — from ADHD to headaches — "make sense now."

    "I'm upset because we were the last to know," she said.
For more, see Lead crisis in East Chicago housing project was actually no surprise. lead paint epa environmental protection agency

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