EL PASO, Texas - Children living at a Central El Paso apartment complex have been testing positive for dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
State inspectors advised parents to have their children tested for lead poisoning after investigator's tests of the Trowbridge Apartments showed the complex had lead and asbestos throughout the property.
"It makes me sad," Rodrigo Moreno, Sr. said. "Because we don't know what is going to happen in the future."
Moreno's two-year-old son is one of the children who had high levels of lead in his blood. The toddler was born at the complex and has lived there his entire life.
Estrella, the three-year-old girl who lives in a unit around the corner from Moreno, has lead levels that continue to rise her mother said.
"I was scared because I didn't know what to do," Alma Martinez said.
Lead poisoning in children causes developmental delays, kidney failure and a great deal of pain, among other side effects.
El Paso building inspectors had been citing the property for code violations unrelated to the lead and asbestos for years.
"They are not habitable," city inspector Rudy Huerta, Jr. said. "There's a lot of electrical issues, exposed wires. There were issues of carbon monoxide poisoning."
City inspectors will take their findings to the next building standards commission meeting on May 29, where the Trowbridge Apartments will face condemnation.
Until that time, residents are allowed to continue to live in the complex even though red "Danger" stickers have been placed on their windows by inspectors.
Tenants say the property manager told them to leave by Sunday, giving them only six days notice.
They say he will not refund their May's rent, nor will he return their deposit money.
The complex is now without power. Tenants say the landlord cut off power to the families who live in the 40 units in order to expedite their departure.
In addition to living in the already toxic and dilapidated conditions they had before, families are now forced to live without air conditioning and the stench of rotting food in refrigerators that no longer have power.
Huerta, Jr. said property owner Efren Gonzalez said he was shocked when city inspectors first brought the code violations to him years ago.
Since that time, inspectors say Gonzalez has done little to remedy the deplorable conditions at the Trowbridge Apartments.
Inspectors say Gonzalez stopped returning phone calls and cut off correspondence with them last January.
ABC-7 went to Gonzalez's home in the Upper Valley to find out what he had to say about his lead-poisoned tenants' claims that they are being forced to vacate on less than a week's notice, without any refund of their rent or deposit money. We also wanted to know if Gonzalez cut off the power to the complex as tenants had said.
"Get off my property," Gonzalez said as he slammed the door in an ABC-7 photojournalist's face. "You can talk to my lawyer. I'm calling the cops."