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Bipartisan effort aims to eradicate lead from public housing across US

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U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and the two Democratic senators representing Illinois are partnering to protect public housing residents in both states, and across the country, from potential lead contamination in their homes.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers recently filed the "Get the Lead Out of Assisted Housing Act" to give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) more tools to identify and remediate lead in paint, water pipes and other areas.

The legislation, which is awaiting action by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, directs the HUD secretary to update the agency's Uniform Physical Condition Standards to include inspections for lead in water service lines and other plumbing.

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The plan also creates a pilot program to provide federal grants to states and local governments to identify threats posed by lead in drinking water and take steps to protect residents, such as creating a lead service line inventory, testing for lead in the drinking water at child care centers and schools, testing for lead at public water fountains and remediation.

In addition, the measure requires testing for lead in drinking water in conjunction with federal grants awarded to reduce lead-based paint hazards to ensure that when a home with lead-based paint is remediated all potential sources of lead in the home are taken care of at the same time.

"Families shouldn’t have to face the threat of lead contamination in their drinking water or in their homes," Young said.

"That’s why we are reintroducing our bipartisan Get Lead Out of Assisted Housing Act to require HUD to identify and address lead contamination at the source. This must happen to protect the health of Hoosier families and communities across the country."

East Chicago was the site of one of the most lead-contaminated public housing sites in the country until its residents were evicted in 2016 and the West Calumet Housing Complex was demolished.

Records show the neighborhood of three-story apartment buildings and brick duplexes built in the 1970s was contaminated by lead and arsenic discharged into the soil during the 39 years the land previously was home to the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery (USS Lead).

A $29 million process of replacing the contaminated soil with clean fill is expected to make the site suitable for the future construction of industrial warehouses.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., co-sponsor of the proposal, said that if it's enacted into law it will be a historic stride to get lead out of drinking water in communities across the country and help make sure everyone has access to clean water.

"It's unacceptable that in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, families living in federally assisted housing remain at risk of suffering permanent brain damage as a result of drinking water contaminated with lead," Duckworth said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there's no safe level of lead in a child's blood because childhood lead exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed development and learning problems.

The legislation also is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and a similar proposal, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is pending in the House.

Times coverage of high lead levels at West Calumet

Times reporters Sarah Reese, Lauren Cross and Carmen McCollum have been following the high lead levels found in the soil at West Calumet. Read all of the coverage here. 

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EAST CHICAGO — City officials can hike water rates for the first time in more than a decade, increasing annual revenue by about $2.5 million t…

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EAST CHICAGO — The city of East Chicago can increase residents' monthly water bills under a recent agreement with the state's Office of Utilit…

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The federal government said in a recent legal filing that residents in the USS Lead Superfund site in East Chicago missed their chance to weig…

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Flipping through history books about East Chicago, you’ll find records of how an area — once nothing more than a swampy wasteland — in the ear…

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The Times interviewed six families who have called East Chicago's West Calumet neighborhood home. 

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EAST CHICAGO — Long before Flint, Michigan, thrust its own lead poisoning crisis into the national spotlight, generations of East Chicago chil…

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The East Chicago Housing Authority built the West Calumet Housing Complex in the early 1970s with little fanfare, as the authority’s director …

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More than 20 percent of East Chicago children under age 7 tested between 2005 and 2015 who lived in the western part of the USS Lead Superfund…

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Sources: a city publication titled “Twin City Tales” and Arch McKinlay’s “Calumet Roots," EPA, U.S. District Court records, Indiana Supreme Co…

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Former East Chicago Housing Authority Executive Director Benjamin Lesniak Jr. testified at the 1976 bribery trial of two of the West Calumet H…

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1881 — Early Region land investor Jacob Forsythe sells 8,000 acres, including the Indiana Harbor and East Chicago areas, to Charles Beatty Ale…

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EAST CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, met Sunday with more than a dozen residents living in the USS Lead Superfund site, wh…

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EAST CHICAGO — As families remain at the West Calumet Housing Complex, city officials are requesting up to $8 million in emergency capital fun…

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EAST CHICAGO — So far, just 33 of the 332 families at the West Calumet Housing Complex have found a new place to live after the city’s mayor d…

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EAST CHICAGO — The U.S. EPA said Thursday it plans to begin excavation work soon in the second of three cleanup zones within the USS Lead Supe…

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Sitting on one another’s steps this summer, Martiza Lopez and her neighbors in East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhood have realized they’re not alone.

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Residents living in or near the USS Lead Superfund site in East Chicago have an opportunity to have their blood tested, obtain birth certifica…

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Nearly 20 years after an EPA project manager told state and federal health officials about a long-demolished lead smelter that once operated on the site of a public housing complex and elementary school in East Chicago, residents are just learning the full extent and magnitude of the contamination in the land some of them have lived on for generations.

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Here's a timeline that takes a look at the lead problems in East Chicago, going all the way back to 1906.

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This interactive looks at the lead levels in West Calumet. [SOURCE: City of East Chicago, EPA.gov]

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East Chicago Superintendent Paige McNulty discusses the move of Carrie Gosch Elementary School.

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