Watchdog says HUD failures resulted in lead poisoning at one housing development: report

The West Calumet Housing Complex
Getty Images

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) failures to enforce its environmental standards resulted in lead poisoning at a housing development in East Chicago, Ind., according to a report from the agency’s watchdog.

The department’s Office of Inspector General reviewed the agency’s efforts to mitigate risks to residents of public housing near toxic waste dumps after the West Calumet Housing Complex was deemed uninhabitable in 2016.

The complex, which was demolished in 2019, was open to residents in 1972. It was built on the site of a former lead smelting plant. 

An initial environmental review was not conducted because the construction occurred before environmental laws were in place. The complex was declared a Superfund site in 2009 due to the amount of hazardous waste.

The report found that federal and state authorities missed several opportunities to inform its residents of lead exposure. The watchdog said that several HUD officials said they didn’t become aware of lead exposure at the complex until 2016, despite warnings as early as 1985. 

According to the report, the Indiana State Department of Health found lead contamination that close to the residence. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency found higher levels of lead in the areas surrounding the complex compared to other areas in the city.

In 1998, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published a report regarding lead exposure in the community and recommended contamination remediation at the site.

The EPA performed critical removal action for properties with elevated levels of lead in surface soils in 2008. In 2014 and 2015, the EPA conducted a soil test that renewed concerns of lead exposure.

In 2016, the Indiana Health Department identified 18 children under the age of 7 with elevated blood levels. The City of East Chicago notified residents that they would be moved due to health concerns. 

A 2017 environmental investigation found onsite historical bulk petroleum storage tank, known contamination of lead and arsenic in onsite soils, and onsite historic polychlorinated biphenyl among other findings. 

“As a result of these missed opportunities and poor oversight, WCHC residents continued living in unsafe conditions for years,” the report said. “Of concern, HUD’s inadequate oversight contributed to the lead poisoning of children in WCHC.” 

The report also found that HUD has since taken steps with the EPA to address contaminated HUD-funded properties, but that more action was needed. It also found that HUD didn’t have a strategy to research and review properties for possible contamination. 

In comments included in the report, HUD didn’t comment on the finding regarding the site but took issue with its finding that more action was needed and the tit didn’t have a strategy to review properties for contamination.

Tags Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD Lead Lead poisoning Public housing

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