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Free Testing for Displaced Residents Worried About Lead


Tuesday, September 6, 2016   

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. – Clinics are being offered for East Chicago residents affected by contaminated soil from an old lead and smelting plant.

More than 1,000 mostly low-income people have been told they'll have to move because of toxic levels of lead and arsenic in the soil around their homes.

The state and city are now offering free blood testing twice a week.

Jennifer O'Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Health, says lead can have a lot of different effects, depending on the age of the person exposed to it.

"Children age six and under and pregnant women are the most vulnerable populations because of the way the brain develops,” she states. “The brain actually starts developing in the womb, so we are most concerned about those younger children and pregnant women."

The West Calumet Housing Complex was built nearly 50 years ago on the grounds of a former copper smelter and lead refinery. It's part of an EPA Superfund site established in 2009.

The free testing is being held at Carrie Gosch Elementary School every Friday and Saturday.

Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to decreases in IQ and learning difficulties. In extreme cases of exposure to high levels, coma and death can result.

O'Malley says blood lead levels are considered elevated if they exceed 5 micrograms per deciliter. She says at the clinics patients will get a finger prick test.

"If a person has a level of five or above, then what we do is we urge them to get the confirmatory testing, and that involves taking a small amount of blood from a vein,” she explains. “And that gives you the most accurate result and that allows you to determine what the most appropriate next steps are. "

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law recently filed a housing discrimination complaint, alleging the East Chicago Housing Authority is not in compliance with obligations under federal law to safely relocate residents.

The state is providing $100,000 to pay moving expenses for families with children or pregnant women.

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