The West Calumet Housing Complex (WCHC), located in East Chicago, IN, was a public housing development that opened in 1972 on top of a former lead smelting plant. HUD and other agencies missed multiple opportunities to identify site contamination at WCHC. As a result, WCHC residents continued living in unsafe conditions for decades, and inadequate oversight led to the lead poisoning of children in WCHC. Between 2005 and 2015, a child living in WCHC had nearly a three times greater chance of having elevated blood lead levels than children living in other areas of East Chicago.
HUD has partnered with and relied on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify contaminated HUD-funded properties and develop a mitigation strategy for those properties. In 2016, EPA provided HUD a list of HUD-funded properties on or near contaminated sites. Since then, EPA and HUD have updated this list. While HUD has taken steps to improve communication with EPA, it can do more with the information it receives to understand how contaminated sites might impact HUD-funded properties.
As a result of HUD’s approach to identifying contaminated sites, residents of those contaminated properties might experience prolonged exposure to potential contaminants. HUD may be unaware of other situations like WCHC. Therefore, HUD needs to take more action and develop a strategy to identify and mitigate those situations.
We offer four recommendations to help HUD (1) develop and implement strategies to research properties and determine whether site contamination should be considered in future environmental reviews and then (2) monitor those reviews.