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State Health Department Sets Sights On Untested East Chicago Residents

Sarah Fentem
Indiana Public Broadcasting

As the response to the lead contamination crisis in East Chicago, Indiana continues, public health officials are still working to get all the residents tested.

The former U.S.S. Lead Superfund site has soil lead levels as much as 100 times what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

Lead can cause serious neurological problems, among other health issues. For that reason, state and local public health officials have been conducting blood lead testing.

However, local health officials are only required to coordinate follow-up treatment for children with elevated lead levels. Adults with a high lead reading have to navigate their own health care, a facet of the law some residents have taken issue with.

State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams says follow-up can be difficult in a community such as East Chicago, where he’s found many people don’t have health insurance…or the documents needed to sign up for it.

“But you also need a driver’s license or identification to sign up,” he explains. “And in order to get that drivers’ license, you need a birth certificate.”

In response, the Indiana State Department of Health is opening what it calls a “one-stop shop” that, in addition to lead testing, will provide residents with a voucher for a state ID and free help finding birth certificates and health insurance.

The ISDH testing center and “shop” will be in the West Calumet Housing Complex, and Adams says he hopes this will help reach the remaining people who have not been tested.

The effects of lead are most serious in young children. Adams says he knows there are still children who’s levels are still unknown.

We’re also very concerned that the majority coming in are adults,” say Adams. “And we still want to emphasize we really need to get those children under seven in for testing.”

The CDC estimates about 30 percent of the residents in that complex have not yet been tested for lead. 

The Indiana State Department of Health has been operating a mobile blood lead testing site at a nearby elementary school two days a week. That testing has involved a two-step process—an initial stick sample, followed by a “confirmatory test,” in which blood is drawn from people whose initial results are elevated.

For the blood tests, the results aren’t available immediately—they need to be sent to Indianapolis. ISDH’s new testing plan only includes intravenous testing. Adams says even though that will take longer for residents to receive their tests results, they’ll only need to be tested once. 

The new center is in the West Calumet Housing Complex Recreation Center, 4925 Gladiola St. It will be open Friday, Oct. 14 from 12 to 4, Saturday, Oct. 15 from 9 to noon and from 1 to 4, Friday, Oct. 21, 12 to 4, and Friday, Oct. 28 from 12 to 4. 

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