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Feds: $1.2M needed to move Indiana residents away from lead

Jonathan Miano/The Times via AP Joseph Russell, 2, rides his tricycle outside his home at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind., in early August. More than 1,000 residents of a public housing complex in northwest Indiana have been left in a state of panic and uncertainty since authorities informed them last month that their homes need to be destroyed because of a serious lead contamination threat.


EAST CHICAGO, Ind. — Federal officials say they're searching for an additional $1.2 million to help move about 1,000 people from lead-contaminated public housing in northern Indiana.

James Cunningham, a deputy regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, told The (Northwest Indiana) Times that the department is working closely with the East Chicago Housing Authority to relocate the residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex, including about 700 children.

HUD already gave $1.9 million to the housing authority to permanently relocate residents. The additional $1.2 million would be used to pay for security deposits, application fees and moving and packing materials, Cunningham said.

On Monday, the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law filed a housing discrimination complaint, claiming the relocation plan violates civil rights laws and calling the housing authority's relocation process "chaotic and troubling."

Cunningham said he doesn't think any housing authority could handle issuing nearly 350 relocation vouchers in three weeks and do it well.

"This is unprecedented," he said.

The complex, which is on the former site of a plant that melted lead and copper, was added to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency list of priority cleanup sites in 2009.

A warning this summer not to allow children to play in the dirt and to wash toys because the soil is soaked with hazardous levels of lead and arsenic was the first many residents of the low-income complex had heard about plans to remove tainted soil that date back to at least 2012.

The dangers of lead contamination were highlighted this year by the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where old pipes leached lead into the city's drinking water beginning in 2014. Even low lead levels in children can reduce IQ, ability to pay attention and academic achievement.

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