Amy McIntosh is the managing editor of Storm Water Solutions. McIntosh can be reached at [email protected]
Sep 07, 2016

Toxic Soil

As the effects from Flint, Mich.’s drinking water crisis are felt across the country, with cities nationwide testing and reporting elevated lead levels in their water supplies, a community in Indiana is experiencing a different kind of lead threat.

More than 1,100 residents in an East Chicago, Ind., housing complex are looking for new homes after learning their building will be demolished because of toxic lead and arsenic levels in the property’s soil.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a warning in late July 2016 notifying residents of the contamination and urging parents to not let their children play in the soil or mulch. EPA said the contamination likely came from a nearby smelting plant, designated as a Superfund site in 2009. Lead and arsenic levels vary based on the soil’s location within the property, but one report indicates the most contaminated yards had lead levels 227 times the EPA’s limit and arsenic levels 135 times the limit. Hundreds of children have elevated lead levels in their blood and have been experiencing symptoms associated with lead poisoning for years, some parents have said. 

A cleanup plan to remove the contaminated soil began in 2012, but testing didn’t begin until 2014. Residents received a letter from East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland in late August of this year notifying them that the building would be demolished and they would have to move. It was determined that disrupting that quantity of toxic soil would be too dangerous. Residents will receive financial assistance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for new rentals.  

Some of this sounds like a story we’ve heard before. Government officials waited years to inform this low-income housing community that a dangerous lead contamination existed on the property. Children in the community are testing positive for lead poisoning, and parents are looking for someone to blame. 

What’s your take on the situation? Should the EPA have notified the residents about the contamination earlier? Let us know in the comments or at [email protected]