Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind., remember having "mud fights" as kids, per the Guardian. Today, the once-happy memory haunts them. The EPA recently revealed that the top six inches of soil surrounding the complex—built atop a former smelting operation—contains 30 times the safe level of lead, plus dangerous levels of arsenic, reports the New York Times. In some areas it's 66 times the safe level of lead and 55 times the limit for arsenic, reports CNN. Lead was found in soil tests in 2006, but the 1,100 complex residents—the majority of whom are black—say state and EPA officials were slow to tell them how bad things were, with many drawing comparisons to the Flint water crisis. “If I’d have known the dirt had lead, he wouldn’t have been out there playing in it," says one mom of a 3-year-old with elevated lead levels in his blood. “Oh, my God, I’m ready to go.”
An EPA rep says officials began cleaning up "hot spots" years ago and decided on a plan to remove the contaminated soil in 2012. But only in May did test results show "exactly where" the contamination was, he says. Fearing soil removal would "aggravate the problem," Mayor Anthony Copeland announced last month that the complex would be torn down, with $1.9 million set aside to help residents move. But that's hardly a comfort to those with high levels of lead in their blood, including "hundreds of children," Copeland told the EPA in a July letter, per the Times of Northwest Indiana. The Indiana State Department of Health, however, claims only 29 residents or those living nearby have shown high concentrations of lead in their blood since early July.