EPA now finding high levels of lead inside East Chicago apartment complex

It’s a disaster in slow motion.

- It’s a disaster in slow motion.

Decades of lead contamination in East Chicago, Indiana is now coming to a head for residents of a large public housing complex.

Now, FOX 32 has learned that the contaminated lead is also inside some of the homes as well.

"For our children" reads the sign on the East Chicago water tank. But you won't find many kids playing outdoors at the West Calumet Public Housing complex.

Marina Barajas says her three children aren't allowed to play outdoors after the EPA posted signs warning of lead contamination earlier this summer.

"We haven't been able to go out since we've been notified about the lead situation, outdoors to play anyway. We have to leave,” Barajas said.

Residents received letters from East Chicago informing them the EPA had found dangerously high levels of lead in the soil at the complex, and in some cases ten times the threshold limit.

Now, the EPA says they're also finding high lead levels inside 40 of the 70 units tested so far, most often in the entryway.

Contractors are going door to door cleaning the apartments with specialized equipment.

The city plans to bulldoze the 346-unit complex after all the residents are evacuated, but finding alternate housing has been a difficult process.

FOX 32: Have they told you when and where you're going to be moving?

"No. They just gave me a voucher and told me I gotta go find somewhere to stay,” said resident Dennis Ruffins.

FOX 32: So where does that put you?

"In a rut. Cause I gotta find a place to stay and I really don't have no income to move around like that,” Ruffins added.

The complex was built in 1972 on the site of what had been an old lead factory from the early 1900s, and not far from the site of another defunct lead factory.

“Shock. I was scared. I didn't understand what was going on,” said mother Shantel Allen.

Allen’s 2-year-old daughter, Samira, is one of several children in the complex who have tested positive for lead. In Samira's case, six times the safe limit.

The test was a year ago, but Allen didn't get the results until a few weeks ago.

"As soon as they got the news, I think I should have been the next to know. Because we live here and they don't. They put our lives and our kids' live in danger,” Allen said.
The EPA has more than 70 employees and contractors on-site, but it will likely be months before every resident is moved out, the building is torn down and the real cleanup begins.

Elevated lead levels in children can lead to a number of health problems, including weight loss, sluggishness and learning disabilities.

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