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Lead contamination in Indiana's soil is causing vomiting, headaches in children

Lead poisoning

(NaturalNews) Families residing in an Indiana housing complex constructed atop an inoperative lead smelting plant claim they were never warned, until recently, about the dangers of lingering toxins in the soil, which are presumed responsible for adverse health effects in children. An estimated 1,100 tenants, 33 percent of which are children, call the West Calumet Housing Complex home.

The area lies within East Chicago, a "gritty industrial town" located just across the Indiana border from Chicago on the south end of Lake Michigan. The 79-acre section was declared a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 due to high concentrations of arsenic and lead in the soil.

Between 2014 and 2015, federal health officials took soil samples from the front and back yards of all residences located within the West Calumet Housing Complex. Testing confirmed lead concentrations up to 30 times higher than allowable safety limits established by the EPA, as well as high levels of arsenic, according to reports.

For nearly a decade, children played in dirt contaminated with dangerously high levels of heavy metals

However, residents say they weren't warned about dangerously high toxin levels in soil until last month. As a result, an unknown number of children may have irreparable damage caused by playing outside in the contaminated soil.

"The tragedy is that this could have all been avoided," attorney Barry Rooth told NBC News, adding that 85 of the children he's representing have unsafe lead levels in their bodies. "We've had at least seven years of lead exposure to a whole generation of children."

Rooth said the situation in the West Calumet Housing Complex is eerily similar to residents in Flint, Michigan poisoned by lead in the drinking water because in both instances, officials failed to warn the public of the dangers.

"Common sense morality tells you that you shouldn't be renting apartments to people in a complex where there are dangerously high levels of lead," said Rooth. "They were renting properties the whole time."

Families trapped in Superfund site

The families were supposed to have been given vouchers for hotels and relocation expenses funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, Roger Pardieck, another attorney representing citizens living in the complex, told the Russian Times the families remain tied to the area.

"They are staying in their homes until they find housing. There isn't any other place for them to go," said Pardieck, adding that corporations and the government are to blame.

"It's the city government, the state of Indiana, EPA, HUD, and then the polluters themselves, Anaconda, US Steel, and other companies."

Industrial site produced arsenic, lead and copper

The U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. was the primary and secondary smelting facility in East Chicago from 1906 until its closing in 1985. For 14 years, the operation involved copper smelter, but in 1920 began specializing in lead production.

The company generated a variety of toxic waste including calcium sulfate sludge, blast furnace flue-dust, bag-house bags and rubber and plastic battery casings, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). An additional facility on the property produced arsenic.

A 2011 report by ATSDR found that "substantial lead contamination had spread off-site as far as one-half mile to the north and northeast of the site." While air samples detected elevated lead levels on and off the site in the 1985, the agency reported no further findings since the plant's closing in 1985.

"U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery site posed a hazard to public health in the past from breathing in lead contaminated air prior to 1985," the report concluded. "Prior to 2006, lead contamination in yards downwind of the USS Lead site posed a public health hazard in the past for young children eating contaminated soil."

At the time of this writing, seven residents have filed class action lawsuits against the City of East Chicago, claiming several children have suffered injuries as a result of lead poisoning. At least 30 children have health problems due to exposure, Rooth told WGN-TV.

Pardieck added that all children need to be tested to determine the extent of the effects. "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," he said.






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