Why Did the US Government Neglect to Tell These Low Income Indiana Families They Were in Danger

In East Chicago Indiana, more than 1,000 residents of a low income housing complex are being forced to abandon their homes.  Signs placed by the Environmental Protection Agency that surround the complex read: “DO NOT PLAY IN THE DIRT OR AROUND THE MULCH.”

The reason?  One that is all too familiar: lead contamination.  The West Calumet apartment complex was built in the 1970s in the spot where a lead refinery once stood.  Now in 2016, children living in the complex have been poisoned from the lead in their environment.

CNN spoke to residents Charles and Shantel Allen who have five children with higher than normal lead levels.  Their two year old’s result came back over six times higher than the level the EPA considers dangerous.

What’s worse?  Shantel Allen says she received a letter from the EPA dated July 16, 2016 stating that the tests on her property that showed up to 66 times higher than the EPA lead limit and 55 times higher than the EPA arsenic limit were done at the end of 2014.  It is unclear why it took the EPA over a year and a half to inform these families that they were in danger.

According to the CDC website, there is no identified lead level in the blood that is considered safe.  The effects can be irreversible. It also reads:

Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child’s health. Millions of children are being exposed to lead in their homes, increasing their risks for

  • damage to the brain and nervous system,

  • slowed growth and development,

  • learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior), and

  • hearing and speech problems.

All the Allen children show signs and symptoms of lead poisoning, according to their mother.  While their 9 year old now shows signs of hyperactivity disorder, their other children have displayed many previously mysterious symptoms that can now be explained.

“They have fever, chills, they vomit…I’ve taken them to the emergency room a number of times,” Allen says.

The children are only five in 670 children affected by the mandatory relocation.  EPA documents show lead levels 227 times higher than the lead limit and 135 times higher than the arsenic limit in the most highly contaminated yards in this area.

Attorney Barry Rooth, who is representing more than 80 families who were affected by this EPA disaster calls it “a perfect storm of lead contamination.”  He says:

“the wind actually blows that lead right across the property and deposits it right where the residents live… Between the air and the soil, you are creating an environment that was so dangerous to the children. You can call them a lost generation in terms of cognitive and mental problems… It can take 10 minutes to get on the Internet and go to the EPA’s Superfund site and describe the years of knowledge and efforts made by people to do something about it. Literally those documents go back 40 years.”

So why haven’t the residents been told until now?  Where was the breakdown in communication? Why wasn’t this important enough to address?

Mayor of East Chicago Anthony Copeland blames EPA Region 5, which happens to be the same region that includes Flint, Michigan.  CNN received a copy of a letter from the mayor to the EPA, which states:

“[Region 5] received soil sampling data in December of 2014, showing that lead contamination within the West Calumet Housing Complex is extremely more pervasive, severe, and extensive than identified by the EPA’s prior inadequate sampling, yet failed to share such data with the city until May 24, 2016.”

Copeland went on to say that the EPA’s “flawed analysis has allowed our residents to be exposed to the potent and unsafe levels of lead and arsenic for many years,” and that the EPA created a “Public Health Disaster” at the housing complex because of the agency’s “incomplete and ineffective” work, and “failed in its duty to protect human health.”

The EPA released a statement in response, which reads:

“In retrospect, with spikes in the preliminary data, we realize that with increased scrutiny of that initial data it could have triggered action to be taken sooner, instead of having to wait until the data was fully assessed. EPA will institute a process to review preliminary data to flag the need for immediate action.”

In response to the disaster and subsequent relocation requirements, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has given out nearly $2 million for rent vouchers and $400,000 toward relocation specialists.

Just like in Flint, Michigan, the government neglected to protect its citizens who would need it most- those living in poverty.

And just like in Flint, Michigan, government carelessness, callous disregard for the health and safety of its citizens, and bureaucratic inefficiency could end up costing some of these children for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, the taxpayers still fund the EPA to the tune of over $8 billion dollars to institute more bureaucratic “processes.”  When will we decide enough is enough?