US

Lead crisis in housing project was actually no surprise

  • FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016 file photo, Joseph Russell, 2, rides his tricycle outside his home at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes.(Jonathan Miano/The Times via AP, file)

    FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016 file photo, Joseph Russell, 2, rides his tricycle outside his home at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes.(Jonathan Miano/The Times via AP, file)  (The Associated Press)

  • This Sept. 14, 2016 photo shows factories in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of a 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)

    This Sept. 14, 2016 photo shows factories in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of a 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - This July 27, 2016 file photo shows signs around the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes. (John J. Watkins/The Times via AP, File)

    FILE - This July 27, 2016 file photo shows signs around the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Ind. The mayor of this industrial town ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex this summer because of severe lead contamination, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes. (John J. Watkins/The Times via AP, File)  (The Associated Press)

A mayor's abrupt order to evacuate a 40-year-old public-housing complex because of severe lead contamination led many to wonder: How could the problem have been overlooked for so long?

It turns out the hazard wasn't — or shouldn't have been — a surprise to anyone in public office in East Chicago or responsible for residents' safety. The northwest Indiana apartment complex was built on ground once occupied by a lead-products factory. Some yards had lead levels more than 70 times the federal safety standard.

A review of documents and news coverage dating to the 1960s shows officials at a half dozen local, state and federal agencies were aware some 1,000 residents were living on lead-tainted soil, though some of the most alarming readings weren't widely known until recently.