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Flint, Michigan, isn't the only U.S. city plagued by lead problems

Lead poisoning

(NaturalNews) For decades, residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana, have have been living on soil contaminated with high levels of lead and arsenic. Last month, more than 1,000 residents of the 346-unit complex were told that their homes must be demolished due to severe lead contamination, the Associated Press reported.

Located near the former site of an industrial lead and copper smelting plant – which closed its doors in 1985 – the housing complex and nearby areas were originally not included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) cleanup plan. In 2009, after retesting the soil around the West Calumet Housing Complex, the whole area was added to the priority cleanup list.

Residents kept in the dark

While rumors of lead contamination spread throughout the community after some residents tested their own soil, the EPA did not think it necessary to expand their testing territory and inform the citizens about the possible dangers lurking in their soil.

Despite the fact that the EPA knew about the lead poisoning and had plans to remove the tainted soil that date back to at least 2009, it took them nearly eight years after the first official red flag to inform East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland.

City attorney Carla Morgan told Think Progress that the city leaders were not informed about the dangerously high lead levels until May this year, and even then the EPA would not offer more details.

For years, kids played in lead and arsenic contaminated soil while struggling with the strangest illnesses. Children who are exposed to high levels of lead at a young age are at high risk of severe brain damage which may result in irreversible mental disorders, seizures, behavioral disorders like ADHD and stunted educational growth.

Mayor Copeland has been praised by residents for his swift actions. Immediately after he got wind of the results in May, signs were put up across the complex warning parents to keep their children out of the dirt and thoroughly wash all their outdoor toys.

By the end of July, all residents had received a letter advising them to find alternative housing while officials cleaned up the mess. Days later, the crisis escalated when the Housing Authority announced it would completely demolish the complex, leaving 346 families without homes.

Flint crisis all over again

Many believe that Flint's water crisis, which drew national scrutiny, finally ignited action in East Chicago. Flint and East Chicago are both under the supervision of the EPA's Region 5 office.

"I think it reaches the level—in my opinion at this time—of what occurred in Flint, Mich, with the water crisis," state Senator and East Chicago resident Lonnie Randolph told CBS Chicago. "They had a water crisis there, looks like we might have a land crisis here."

East Chicago residents are being offered lead tests. So far, 29 of the 400 screened blood samples have come back positive for high levels of lead. Of the 29 positives, 21 came from children under the age of 6, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Concerned residents have gathered forces and formed the Calumet Lives Matter committee. Sen. Randolph, a member of the newly-formed organization, said that he has lived his whole life in East Calumet, but never heard about possible lead contamination of the soil surrounding the closed smelting plant until earlier this summer.

"Four decades of families have been made sick or ill because of this. And then they get a notice overnight that they have to move, that their home is going to be destroyed," he said.

Where will they go?

While the housing authority has promised federal vouchers to help pay the rent of new homes, many residents are not sure where they will go. Other nearby low-income housing units have waiting lists of years, leaving them with no other option than to go North of the contamination zone where gangs rule the streets.

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