HUD cited for lead poisoning in East Chicago children, internal report says

Residents of an Indiana housing complex had been living with lead contamination for more than four decades

A new report shows The Department of Housing and Urban Development is at fault for the lead poisoning of residents in East Chicago, Indiana, after not enforcing set environmental regulations.

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According to the Washington PostHUD actions resulted in the lead poisoning of children in at least one public housing development. They also caused a potential threat to residents’ health and safety in thousands of other federally subsidized apartments near contaminated sites. 

“HUD takes its oversight of environmental review seriously, especially when there is a potential risk to residents. The ‘one mile radius’ standard discussed in [the inspector general] report was an initial screening method and does not mean there is a current hazard to residents,” HUD spokeswoman Meaghan Lynch said in a statement to The Post.

“HUD will continue its work with EPA to improve information sharing and to jointly evaluate the proximity of other HUD-assisted housing to contaminated sites, and will publicly release its analysis this year.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt And Local Officials Tour East Chicago Superfund Site
EAST CHICAGO, IN – APRIL 19: Environmental activists protest outside the Carrie Gosch Elementary School before a visit by U.S. EPA Adminstrator Scott Pruitt on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana. The school was closed after high levels of lead and arsenic were found in the West Calumet housing complex which borders the school. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The West Calumet Housing Complex was declared a Superfund site in 2009 and demolished in 2019. According to the report, over 1000 tenants of mostly Black and Hispanic people lived in the residency. They lived with lead contamination for four decades before relocating as the location was deemed uninhabitable in 2016.

The Post reported the inspector general found that HUD and other agencies failed to notify residents and resolve safety and environmental conditions at the location. The Complex was built in 1972 on top of a former lead smelting plant that created batteries from refined copper and lead.

According to the report, HUD’s field office in Indianapolis did not conduct the required reviews, even after the Environmental Protection Agency discovered high levels of lead in 1985.

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As detailed on the EPA website, West Calumet Housing Complex, “cleanup to residential reuse standards would cost approximately $28.8 million and would take 7 months. The cleanup would require 2 feet of lead- and arsenic-contaminated soil to be removed, disposed of off-site, and replaced with clean soil.”

Only then would the area be satisfactory for a new housing development.

In 2019, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland hoped to rebuild on the site, only if the area was made safe.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt And Local Officials Tour East Chicago Superfund Site
EAST CHICAGO, IN – APRIL 19: A sign, placed by the EPA, warns people not to play on the lawn at the West Calumet Housing Complex on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana. Nearly all the residents of the complex were ordered to move by the East Chicago Housing Authority after the soil and many homes were found to contain high levels of lead. The area has been declared an EPA superfund site. Today EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited the site, his first visit to a superfund site since being named the agency’s administrator. The complex has been scheduled for demolition. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“When selecting the best cleanup alternative for Zone 1, it is very important the EPA does not dismiss the danger to human health posed by the presence of construction debris remaining below ground level on the footprint of the West Calumet Complex and possibly Goodman Park from the decades-old demolition of the lead manufacturing operations, which were the cause of the contamination at the site,” Copeland explained to the Chicago Tribune.

According to The Post, a 1998 investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that 30 percent of children under seven years old in the West Calumet community had elevated blood lead levels. After the EPA removed elevated levels of lead from the soil in 2008, the problem persisted.

The Indiana health department identified 18 children under seven years old with elevated blood lead levels in 2016 and found lead was also in the water supply, not just the soil.

theGrio reported new HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said her “number one goal is to provide the leadership and the vision that HUD is so sourly lacking.”

“We need to come up with a plan, a public financing plan, a public plan with how we get mortgages out. The mission of HUD is to put people in housing,”

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