I’m no stranger to the element. None of us are here. Just look:
2008 map from Mel Chin’s Safe House showing the concentrations of lead in New Orleans’ soil. Click on image to enlarge.
In New Orleans alone, thousands of properties have unsafe levels of lead in the soil. At least 30% of the inner city childhood population is affected from lead-poisoning. Lead-contaminated soil is an issue in every major U.S. city and contributes to the detrimental effects of lead-poisoning. The health of children across the nation is being threatened by the very ground they play on.
Yes, individual residents are generally expected to deal with lead sources on their own. It’s private property now, regardless of the materials, events and people who might have contaminated it. You bought the mess, you pay for it…and boy, can you pay in ways you never imagined.:
Despite our efforts, despite testing our water, despite an extensive lead abatement program conducted on our house by ACORN, we got word yesterday afternoon that our little 17-month-old girl has a high level of lead contamination.
How high? BLLs > 13 µg/dL. Translation: blood lead level greater than 13 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Is that a lot? Well, the bad thing about lead is that there’s really no safe level. She doesn’t have to be rushed to the hospital for chelation. But it’s still not good. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, permanent damage to the central nervous system, even death.
Needless to say we are very upset. There are a thousand things that can happen to an infant child, but this was the one thing that I focused on and tried to avoid. I was aware of the danger, and still we have this threat to our baby’s health.
Some people think of this as a “disease of poverty,” but that’s somewhat misleading. Poor people are more likely to live in old houses with lead-based paint. But what with gentrification and the return of middle class folks to the inner city, there’s more people of various incomes levels living in such old houses. And there’s a strong correlation between living in an old house and lead poisoning in children.
The symptoms of brain damage and learning disability are really not testable or noticeable until a child reaches six years of age. That diminishes whatever solace I might have taken in our daughter’s lack of symptoms. So for now we can only work to eliminate further contamination, give her a good diet, monitor her blood levels, and hope. Even if we moved to Utah immediately, even if we see nothing but decreasing lead levels in her blood tests, we still won’t know the damage for at least four and a half years.
That seems like a long time to wait. And even then we may not see the full picture right away.
Of course, just when you think your own homestead might be relatively okay, you find the park you take your children to is going to need some serious remediation.
Abandon all health ye who enter here
The need for lead remediation has currently ensured that four parks must be closed to undergo the process, with another bunch of parks exhibiting harmful levels waiting in the wings for their turn. My son plays regularly at two of them. And they are not going to have the lead fully removed from them. This city doesn’t have the funds to do that.
These days, we can’t even trust the earth under our feet.