Housing complex residents suing East Chicago over lead exposure

EAST CHICAGO -- Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex are filing a tort claim against the city of East Chicago after unsafe lead levels were found on the property.

City data shows lead in the soil near the complex exceeds the EPA’s recommended level. High levels of arsenic were also found.

Two lead companies once operated near where the housing complex was built. Last month, the city notified residents that it would be in their best interests to relocate. Now the EPA is on cleaning up the mess.

But a Merriville-based attorney says that’s not good enough. Documents reveal sampling results from 2009 and 2010 showed there were issues with lead, and those results should have triggered a relocation plan. But it didn’t and people continue to live here 7 years later.

Even more: right next door is Carrie Gosch Elementary School. This week officials announced the school would close for the year and students would be sent to another school.

The tort claim alleges several young children sustained injuries as a result of exposure to toxic levels of lead. The attorney bringing the suit, Barry Rooth, said he’s found 30 children with exposure issues. He criticized the city for not telling people to relocate until recently.

“The city has known for years if not decades that this site, West Calumet Housing, has occupied a location of land that is filled with lead and they’ve done nothing,” Rooth said.

“These people are poor. They’re powerless and they’ve been exposed to poison for years and they didn’t even know it or have the opportunity to protect their kids,” he said.

The City of East Chicago said it has not received the notice or tort so it has no comment.