Residents at Indiana housing complex being forced to relocate due to lead

Last Updated Sep 1, 2016 7:47 AM EDT

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. -- Federal officials need more than a million dollars to help an Indiana community relocate from its lead-poisoned land. The EPA has placed signs at the West Calumet Housing Complex, warning people not to play in the dirt.

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EPA placed warning signs at the West Calumet Housing Complex

CBS News

The low-income housing complex was built in the 1970s, right on top of what was a lead refinery, reports CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. Now four decades later, more than 1,000 people who live here are being forced to uproot their lives in order to protect those most vulnerable to lead.

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Charles Allen

CBS News

“I’m angry because my family got poisoned on someone else being negligent,” resident Charles Allen said.

Each of Charles and Shantel Allen’s five children have higher than normal lead levels. Their toddler tested at a level six times higher than what’s considered dangerous.

“The minute we got the results, they said that we needed to come back immediately because everyone’s test was inaccurate,” Allen said.

The city’s mayor notified low-income housing residents in July that the EPA recently informed him that “soil sampling detected elevated levels of historic lead and arsenic” in the complex. The mayor said he learned of this latest development at the end of May.

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Attorney Barry Rooth

CBS News

“West Calumet is a disaster,” attorney Barry Rooth said. “They were the eye of the storm, of a perfect lead storm of contamination and nobody bothered to tell them.”

Rooth represents more than 80 residents. He said documents dating back to 2011 show the city knew there was a serious problem.

“We’re going to look very seriously at the local, state and federal agencies, and find out where this breakdown occurred. And then go after that problem to compensate those victims,” Rooth said.

“At the end of the day, is it too late?” Duncan asked.

“Unfortunately, in some ways, it is,” Rooth said.

EPA officials continue to go door-to-door testing each property’s lawn for lead.

Mother of four Sandra Smith has been living here since 2011. She said she plans to move “as soon as possible.” All of her children’s lead levels are low. She said she doesn’t understand why her city didn’t act sooner.

“Was this a project that y’all were trying to see how long it takes to kill off a bunch of people? Like do you know that that’s not safe?” Smith asked.

Officials say housing vouchers will be given to residents to help them relocate. The city continues to offer lead testing. Meanwhile, the entire complex will be demolished and the soil will be treated.