East Chicago families grapple with relocation due to soil contamination

Leah Hope Image
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Lead and arsenic found in East Chicago
Families forced from their homes want help for their children after being exposed to contaminated soil.

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (WLS) -- Hundreds of families want to relocate due to dangerous levels of lead and arsenic in the ground at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana.

The West Calumet neighborhood is typically packed with kids playing outside on a late summer afternoon. But after their parents found out about lead contamination in the soil last month, the kids were told to stay inside and play.

Now parents are looking for other places to move their families due to the contamination in the soil.

The Allen family's challenge is constant with five children ages two to 10, who are only allowed to play indoors.

Their home and their East Chicago development, named West Calumet Housing Complex, was built next to old factories that left dangerous levels of lead in the soil, affecting their homes and their children.

"We have to answer their questions as to why they can't play outside anymore. It's taken a major toll on us," said mother Shantel Allen.

The Allens are now among the families getting legal help after Allen says everyone in their family, as well as everything in their house, tested positive for high levels of lead.

"We should have been among the first to know, because these are our lives and our children," said Allen.

Attorneys are investigating how things got so bad and how to help the families.

"The lead contamination in West Calumet and surrounding neighborhoods constitutes a humanitarian crisis," said attorney Barry Rooth.

Last month, the mayor of East Chicago informed residents of the contamination and recommended they relocate.

Some residents tell us they can't find apartments with the housing vouchers they have been offered.

Kamia Edwards, another mother in the housing complex, is now trying to keep her eight-month-old son off the ground outside and inside.

"We hold him. We take turns holding him and have him on the couch and on the bed. We don't have him on the floor," said Edwards.

Edwards says she has already noticed signs of lead poisoning in her five-year-old child.

She wants out but hasn't found a place she can afford.

ABC7 reached out to the city's mayor and the city's attorney, but have not heard back.