East Chicago homeowners sue companies over lead, arsenic

Thirty-eight homeowners in East Chicago have filed a lawsuit claiming the lead and arsenic contamination caused by former manufacturing operations near their neighborhood have decreased the value of their homes and inflicted emotional distress.

The homeowners live in the Calumet residential area within the U.S.S. Lead Superfund site. This is near the West Calumet Housing Complex, which city of East Chicago announced it was closing and demolishing because of hazardous contamination. The homeowners claim they were unaware of the toxins in their soil and groundwater until July 2016 when the problems at the housing complex became public.

In their lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, they assert the businesses that either formerly owned the factories close to their neighborhood or have since purchased the properties were negligent and allowed hazardous substances to contaminate their yards and homes.

All the plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000 as well as punitive damages to deter the defendants and other companies and individuals from acting in a similar manner.

“Fear of liability is no excuse for silence or inaction,” the complaint states. “No one needs to wait to be sued before fixing – or at least attempting to fix – the mess one creates. The standards of care should not be measured against the all-too-common practice of corporate bad actors who hunker down, obfuscate, and deflect responsibility. Defendants have failed to act with any level of decency, willfully and wantonly violating the standard of care they own the Plaintiffs.”

The named defendants are Atlantic Richfield Co., Tesoro Corp., E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., The Chemours Co., U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc., Mining Remedial Recovery Co., Arava Natural Resources Co., Inc., and Mueller Industries, Inc.

The property owners are being represented pro bono by the Chicago law firm, Goldberg Kohn. This is the same law firm which has filed a petition, on behalf of homeowners, to intervene in the consent decree between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the defendants, Atlantic Richfield and du Pont de Nemours.

Speaking of the complaint filed Monday, Goldberg Kohn partner David Chizewer said in a press release, “… we have filed this case on a pro bono basis to obtain justice for people who came to us directly and asked for help. These are ‘real’ people dealing with a terrible situation not of their own making.”

The homeowners contend the contamination put them at risk for serious health problems, including organ disorders, seizures, respiratory issues, behavioral problems, cancer and damage to the liver and kidneys. As a result, they have stopped letting their children play outside and have curtailed visits from their grandchildren.

Moreover, their home values have plummeted since 2015 and are expected to continue to decline.

“For many years, these companies’ lead smelting, lead refining and other manufacturing processes wreaked environmental havoc in the Calumet neighborhood,” Chizewer said. “… The physical and emotional distress caused by these health issues combined with the fact that this type of environmental contamination, even once remediated, has reduced our clients’ property values to the point where it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to sell their properties, indicates very real damages that we are asking the court to award our clients.”

The case in the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, is Cristobal and Theresa Alvarez, et al. v. Atlantic Richfield Co., et al., 2:17-cv-414.  

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