East Chicago Residents Say Lead Contamination Made Their Families Sick

Mulch has been spread over most of the ground in the West Calumet Housing Complex, in an effort to cover the soil that has been contaminated with lead

Residents of East Chicago, Indiana, say they and their children are sick because of lead poisoning in their housing complex. Their attorneys say they are questioning when the city of East Chicago and even the EPA knew about the contamination, and what they plan to do about it.

“I’m terrified actually. I’ve been losing sleep over it,” said Shantel Allen, who lives with her husband and their five children in the West Calumet Housing Complex, which her attorneys say is the epicenter of lead contamination. Mulch has been spread over most of the ground in the complex, in an effort to cover the soil that has been contaminated with lead, and to keep residents from breathing it in.

“[I’m] just wondering if my children will struggle in school, you know, with attention deficit disorder and things like that, just hoping nothing like that develops,” she added.

Tikia King’s windows in the complex have been closed ever since environmental remediation teams dug up her lawn.

“I didn't realize how intense the situation was. Nobody explained it,” she said. Now she worries that her son Andrew, who spends much of his time in a wheelchair, was somehow affected by the lead in the soil around her home.

“You wake up every morning not knowing what to do, where you’re gonna go,” she said. “Can I get a house that is wheelchair accessible? Can I keep the same doctors? Speech therapists?”

Attorneys for 85 children impacted by the contamination are investigating the source, as well as exactly when authorities knew about this problem.

“When East Chicago says it had no knowledge of the contamination, the documents prove otherwise,” said Allen’s attorney Barry Rooth.

But at an open house for residents impacted by the lead on Tuesday, the city's attorney said officials didn't know the extent of the contamination until May of this year.

“That's the first time he was provided data that showed that the levels in West Calumet Park exceeded what is an acceptable level for residential, what’s an acceptable level for basically any place where people or children are going to be,” said Carla Morgan, an attorney for the city.

Allen said her family has been offered Section 8 vouchers to move out of the area, but the amount isn’t enough to find a place nearby.

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