Despite lead contamination alarms at Indiana’s West Calumet Housing Complex, families remain as city and federal agencies stay slow to offer remedies. In other states, however, school districts are taking things into their own hands.
“Everything makes sense to us now, as to why our children have been sick, why they have been having headaches. The reason they’ve been vomiting. The reason they have poor appetite. We have to deal with them crying because they’re having headaches and migraines,” Shantel Allen, a mother of five who lives in the Calumet Housing Complex, stammered as she broke into tears talking to reporters. “We have to deal with them vomiting. We have to answer their questions as to why they can’t play outside anymore.”
Allen is just one of the mothers whose children could have been affected by the lead- and arsenic- contaminated soil surrounding the housing complex.
In late August, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland told residents an Environmental Protection Agency report showed that lead levels at the complex were as much as six times above the least conservative agency standards. The EPA, it turns out, knew about the possibility of chemical contamination for over a decade.
The complex home to mostly black residents, among them 670 children, was built on top of a former smelting plant owned by Anaconda. The EPA designated the area a Superfund site in 2009, making it a priority for clean-up, but then spent two years in a legal fight with the smelting plants former operators – Atlantic Richfield Company and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co., for settlement money of $26 million.
Once the alarm was sounded about the higher than estimated levels of lead in the soil, the families were supposed to have been given vouchers for hotels through programs organized by city government programs and from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to move away from the complex. But as Roger Pardieck, an attorney representing the families of the housing complex told RT, the families are still there.
“They are staying in their homes until they find housing. There isn’t any other place for them to go,” Pardieck said. He said the blame should go to all levels of government and corporations.
“It’s the city government, the state of Indiana, EPA, HUD, and then the polluters themselves, Anaconda, US Steel, and other companies.”
Seven residents have filed a class action lawsuit against the City of East Chicago in which they claim several young children sustained injuries as a result of exposure to toxic levels of lead. The attorney bringing the suit, Barry Rooth, told WGNTV he’s found 30 children with exposure issues. He criticized the city for not telling people to relocate until recently.
Pardieck was asked about whether the families he represented had health conditions, or had been examined by doctors.
“Some have and some have not,” said Pardieck. “They all need to have blood drawn so they can determine the blood lead levels. With some of the children we know that the levels are dangerously high and will cause adverse effects. We don’t have the results from all of them.”
Virginia Tech University Professor Marc Edwards, who carried out lead contamination tests for Flint, Michigan residents, told RT earlier this year, “Lead affects every system in the human body. There is no safe level of lead exposure.”
He added, “We have to do everything in our power to prevent these lead exposures. You cannot undo the harm that is caused by this neurotoxin.”
Pardieck said some of the residents have lived in the area long enough to show signs of contamination.
“Until recently they did not know what the cognitive problems were,” said Pardieck. “Some exhibited symptoms of ADHD and they did not know what that was caused by, and now the lead has become to be known they can make the links.”
Pardieck said with adults it is harder to make the causative link with illnesses “because they would have been exposed under other circumstances in another environment. It is easier with the children because the only thing they’ve known is living at this location. The school they go to is on the site that’s contaminated.”
The school is now closed, the children sent to other schools, and the teachers are no longer teaching there.
“They only thing they [city government] is doing is providing vouchers,” Pardieck told RT. “The vouchers come either from the city or the EPA or HUD, that’s the city’s response thus far. They may be doing things we are not aware of but they haven’t made it evident to the families that they are doing anything else.”
Drinking water contamination reached national attention following the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. It led to stepped up testing in schools in New Jersey, which found record levels of contamination, and most recently testing of Chicago Public Schools.
In July, St. Louis Public School District in Missouri hired environmental consultants to conduct a system-wide water check.
“It found that out of 797 tests, 45 were above 15 parts per billion…Another 43 tests surpassed 10 parts per billion…in all 32 of 72 schools were affected,” according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
The EPA’s current standard is 15 parts per billion, but as many experts have said, there is no safe level for lead in drinking water.
After the results were released, the school district promptly disabled low-testing drinking fountains and marked them up with yellow caution tape.
Testing cost the school district $70,000. The state of Missouri does not require schools to test their water for lead.
In June, a staggering report was released that showed 19 Chicago public schools had been recorded with high lead levels, including a water foundation at a school that served children with disabilities, with 23 times more lead than the federal limit allows.
The results incensed City Council lawmakers who called for public hearings.
A new bill in the state would require lead testing and mitigation. It recently passed the Illinois Senate, 48 to 5.
The law would require the Illinois Department of Public Health to “establish a program to identify, in each school in the state, any lead service line or lead-bearing plumbing that is a lead hazard” and come up with a plan to fix those problems. The bill would apply to those schools built before 1987.