Monday, February 8, 2016

A crew member from Mishawaka Concrete and Asphalt Recycling sprays water on debris from a house on Prairie Street Tuesday, June 3, 2014, as the crew continues home demolition in preparation for the Prairie Street overpass construction. (Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth) (Buy this photo)
Even if you don't live in south central Elkhart, you need to be concerned about lead poisoning

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 11:53 a.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Place Where You Live is a regular column from a variety of writers in Elkhart County. As the column's name suggests, they'll write about issues affecting their neighborhoods and communities.

I was horrified to read that demolition of homes for the new Prairie Street underpass started with no lead testing or lead abatement done on these older homes and business buildings.

As readers may know from seeing our story in The Elkhart Truth some years back, our family has personal experience with lead poisoning in our 1920 home in Elkhart. The problem was unexpected, persistent, expensive to resolve and a danger to our children's health.

I am very concerned that the homes and schools in the neighborhood of the new underpass will be contaminated by lead dust blowing from the demolition sites. The only preventive measure currently in place is to spray down the crumbling debris with a fire hose — which will dampen some of the dust and allow the contractors to collect it later, but not contain all of it. If the demolition continues as planned, soon every porch, windowsill, front yard, mud puddle, and sandbox in that neighborhood will contain enough lead dust to poison the children in the neighborhood. Families will track it into the homes, and it will get on little fingers, toes, and toys. I have been through this. I don't wish it on anyone.

I know that some people will not be concerned because of the reputation of the neighborhood. Hogwash. We need to be concerned for all the children in our community. Allowing this hazard to be created, and then putting the burden on homeowners to clean it up, is foolish. Even if one is unacquainted with families in the neighborhood, even if they look different from you, the danger is real. (And things always look smaller from far away.)

Even if it was OK to be unconcerned with these children on the basis of their heritage (which it's not), I would like to point out that for lead-poisoned children who live in rental housing, when they test positive for lead -- which we know they will -- the property owners will be the ones on the hook. That means landlords — business people. Current regulations do not require demolition companies to follow lead-safe work practices, but they do require property owners to remediate lead hazards for the safety of the children living in those homes, and for future residents. That can cost tens of thousands of dollars per house. I speak from experience.

Furthermore, decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies of lead poisoning demonstrate that the higher a child's blood lead level, the more likely it is that a child will exhibit learning disabilities, behavior problems, neurological disorders, and (frankly) lower IQ. I am willing and able to provide statistics and studies for those who wish to test this theory.

Even if Elkhart residents are not concerned now, because the problem isn't in their neighborhood or isn't in kids they personally know, we should all be concerned. In another 30 or 50 years, who will be our manufacturing workers? The people paying into Social Security? Our home health aides? The CNAs in our nursing home or in hospice care? The clerks at the grocery store or the pharmacy who look out for you? The kindly families whose attention to their elderly neighbor allows you to live longer in your own home if that's what you desire? The children in south central Elkhart will grow into those citizens, the bedrock of our community. It behooves us all to be concerned.

Please do whatever you can to make your opinion on this subject known, whether you agree with me or not. I want all of Elkhart's children to grow into fine young men and women. I think you do too.

Carolyn Hunt lives in a 1920 Elkhart home with her husband, Anthony, and their four sons.