READ: Lead Isn’t Only in Water. It’s in Backyards, Too

By Yessenia Funes Aug 16, 2016

When scarlet fever struck Akeesha Daniels’ family, she couldn’t figure out why. More than 10 years later, the Environmental Protection Agency notified her that the soil surrounding her public housing complex contained high levels of lead and arsenic. Her East Chicago neighborhood of Calumet is the latest place where the EPA is taking a closer look at its past mistakes.

A ThinkProgress report released yesterday (August 15) dives into the reality that Chicago residents like Daniels face: Health issues—including ear infections, upper respiratory problems and throat infections—followed by eviction. The city told the residents in July that they’d have to be relocated because of the public health risks associated with the area. Lead levels were 228 times what the EPA allows.

But, as the report makes clear, this isn’t new. Lead and other toxins have been in these backyards since the city’s industrial boom at the turn of the 20th century. This was when East Chicago was home to U.S.S. Lead and Anaconda Lead Products. Once the factories left, their lead remained.

Now, families like Daniels’ have to figure out where they’ll go. If the city moves them to an area that has historically had gang-related conflict with their neighborhood, it can bring added trouble. “I’m lost. I’m really lost. I could be homeless for the first time in my life,” Daniels told ThinkProgress. “And three months from now we’re going to be knee-deep in snow.” To make things more complicated, Daniels needs a handicap-accesible home, a result of "her long history with health problems."

Residents aren’t just accepting this, the story emphasizes. They’re fighting back by creating the Calumet Lives Matter Committee, which is supported by National Nurses United and Northwestern University’s environmental law clinic. Locals are going to advocate for themselves and make sure that where they go next isn’t toxic—and that includes the toxicity that comes from violence and gangs.

“The detriment and damage speaks for itself. This is a national health crisis,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, pastor of the city’s Greater First Baptist Church, to Think Progress. “Unfortunately, when you have poor, uneducated, unemployed people of color, you have a normalcy that these lives don’t matter. We can’t let this continue.”

Read the ThinkProgress story here.