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Residents flee East Chicago, Indiana, to avoid being poisoned by lead

Lead poisoning

(NaturalNews) At the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, residents (mostly poor African American families) have been living, working and playing in toxic soil, heavily contaminated with lead. Mayor Anthony Copeland recently announced that the housing facilities would be demolished, and that everyone living in the area would have to evacuate. The elementary school has also been shut down, after 19 children younger than the age of 8 were tested and found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The community is home to at least 1,100 black residents, including some 670 children, who had no idea that their bodies were taking in exorbitant amounts of lead from the soil. It wasn't until one of the resident's children was tested that the issue was raised. When resident Stephanie King, single mother of five, got the results of her 3-year-old son Josiah's blood tests, questions started being asked. Her toddler had extremely elevated levels of lead in his blood, no doubt impairing his learning ability and overall cognitive function.

Residents learn that soil contains dangerous levels of lead

As the EPA then provided more information, the residents of the community came to find out that they had been living in a toxic area just north of a former U.S.S. lead smelting plant. In 2009, the area was designated a Superfund site in dire need of cleanup and overhaul. The residents are mostly furious, wondering why authorities were not clear about the dangers of the leaded soil until now. Just as in Flint, Michigan, the government kept silent, leaving the residents uninformed about the poisoning taking place around their homes.

The amount of lead measured in the top six inches of the soil in the area is 30 times higher than what is considered safe for children to play in. They also found elevated levels of arsenic. According to Robert A. Kaplan, the EPA's acting regional administrator for the Great Lakes region, cleanup and regulatory compliance efforts previously focused strictly on the former lead smelting plant; the neighboring areas have been, for the most part, left untouched. However, in 2011, the EPA did remove some oil from the areas where they felt the lead was of the greatest concern.

Whom to trust?

The companies responsible for the lead contamination were ordered to clean up the neighboring areas in 2012; however, extensive testing of the soil did not begin until late 2014. The EPA, holding these companies accountable, claimed that the contractor that they hired to collect soil samples failed to provide quality data. Now the EPA is going to people's homes offering deep cleaning services to remove lead. They are putting up fliers warning residents not to dig or come into contact with the soil or mulch. The EPA says that they warned the residents about the lead in the soil for nearly a decade, but a contradictory 2011 assessment of the Superfund site concluded that residents were safe to breathe the air, drink the tap water and play in the soil. Who were the residents supposed to trust?

Instead of trying to remove the toxic soil and risk displacing more lead, mayor Copeland is ordering an evacuation. "I cannot multiply this enough times, to tell you the irreparable damage that can happen to your child," said Mr. Copeland speaking to residents at an Aug. 3 meeting. Mayor Copeland confirmed in a letter to the EPA in July that "hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood." Since then, $1.9 million has been granted to the East Chicago Housing Authority to help the residents pay for relocation.

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