EAST CHICAGO | Lead contamination in the surrounding soil has complicated plans to demolish unsafe buildings in the Calumet neighborhood.
The Board of Public Works late last week accepted bids to tear down a burned-out former duplex in the 4900 block of Alexander Avenue, but with a stipulation that the foundations of the two-story building and adjacent garage be left in place to not disturb the ground.
Much of the city's Calumet section is considered a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of high levels of toxic lead in the soil.
The EPA currently is evaluating the extent of lead pollution in the area, which was flanked by a pair of lead smelters and a lead-based paint manufacturer for the better part of the last century.
Building Commissioner Winna Guzman informed commissioners that the building is collapsing, posing a danger to neighbors, and secured an emergency demolition order in March.
The building's owner, a Highland resident, has not taken steps to remove the hazard, Guzman said, so the city will arrange for the demolition and assess the owner for all costs.
EPA scientists estimate that as much as 3 feet of contaminated dirt would have to be removed from properties in the 4800 and 4900 blocks of Alexander, Kennedy and McCook avenues before they can be considered safe.
Guzman said the EPA has been notified of the city's plans for the "aboveground only" demolitions.
Exposure to lead has been shown to cause nervous system disorders such as seizures, lowered intelligence and behavioral problems, and has been linked to skin and kidney cancers.
A feasibility study of options for the area is scheduled for completion this year, with federally funded remediation of the properties planned to begin in 2013.
The EPA is seeking to recover money for some of the work from those companies deemed responsible for the contamination.