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Lead Crisis Could Make East Chicago The Next Flint

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 24, 2016 5:59PM

Roughly a month ago, the Environmental Protection Agency blanketed yards in the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago with signs warning children not to play in the dirt. Tests undertaken by the agency had found high levels of lead and arsenic contamination, almost certainly caused by now-shuttered factories that once dotted the region. Now the EPA is directing its attention away from digging and toward finding new residence for the roughly 1000 people who live there, the Times of Northwest Indiana reports.

Local officials became aware of the problem just this May, after the EPA shared test findings with East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland. This despite the fact that the EPA discovered elevated lead levels way back in 2012. Given the arguably negligent governmental response plus the fact that vulnerable children have found themselves in danger—nearly 700 kids live in the West Calumet Housing Complex—the situation has drawn comparisons to the Flint water crisis.

Officials are also trying to determine what will become of the land where the housing site currently stands. City Attorney Carla Morgan said that EPA delivered a letter this week to the city of East Chicago in hopes of hammering out a plan for the future, according to the Times of NWI.

Still, the immediate need of relocation remains somewhat up in the air, even after nearly a month has passed since Mayor Anthony Copeland sent a letter urging residents to “temporarily relocate your household to safer conditions.” But even though an exact timeline for relocation remains vague, things now appear to progressing further: HUD on Friday said that nearly $2 million federal dollars had been allocated to East Chicago Housing Authority with which to provide housing vouchers.

As the Washington Post points out, the mayor has been largely praised for his response since learning of the contamination. But Copeland will face legal challenges nonetheless, it appears. WCHC resident Lashawnda Walker has filed suit against the mayor and the city, among others, the Tribune reported on Tuesday.