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Prairie Street demolition is done and rubble is gone, but lead poisoning concerns linger for one advocate

An Elkhart County Health Department rep, meanwhile, says precautionary measures minimize the potential threat.

Posted on Aug. 28, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.

ELKHART — The demolition’s done, the rubble’s been removed and grass is growing where homes once stood.

But that doesn’t mean lead concerns around the site of the planned Prairie Street overpass south of downtown Elkhart are a thing of the past.

Carolyn Hunt, an advocate who twice knocked on doors in the neighborhood over the summer to warn residents of the possibility of lead poisoning brought on by the demolition of 14 structures there, remains adamant. "As a parent, if it were in my neighborhood, I would be really worried,” she said.

She can’t say for sure the removal of the buildings in June, meant to make space for the overpass, resulted in the spread of harmful quantities of lead via dust caused by the demolition. Lead, contained in paint commonly used in older homes before stricter federal rules went into place in 1973, can cause nervous system and brain damage in children.

But it’s possible the substance wafted beyond the confines of the demolition zone, and enough time has passed since the buildings came down that if a child were affected “it would already be in their bloodstream,” she said.

Hunt’s message: Children living in the area should get tested for lead poisoning.

One of her children suffered lead poisoning, and that experience prompted Hunt to twice walk the Prairie Street neighborhood soon after the demolition project and hand out literature on the matter.

Tara Still, an environmentalist at the Elkhart County Health Department, shies from banging the drum on the issue too loudly.

"There are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know the quantity of lead that was in the homes,” she said, queried about the potential lead dangers linked to the demolition.

But she echoes Hunt’s message about the import of testing young children for lead poisoning, if only because of the older age of the homes in the neighborhood. Any kids in older neighborhoods should be checked, once a year, if they’re younger than 6, Still said.

WATERING HELPED DAMPEN THREAT

In demolishing the 14 buildings, mainly homes, city officials emphasized they followed state and federal regulations. No follow-up testing for lead is planned in the soil around the site, a city rep said this week.

Yes, lead was found ahead of time in at least some of the structures taken down, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore said in June. But city officials directed the contractor handling the demolition to increase spraying of water to dampen the dust, preventing it from floating around. Moreover, the rubble was quickly removed and buried in landfills designed to handle lead.

Still noted that lead, because it’s relatively heavy, typically won’t float far. In light of the watering, which further hampered its spread, and the removal of the rubble, she minimized the potential threat.

"I’m not seeing any indication right now that would warrant that,” she said, asked if testing for lead in the soil in the area is merited.

Grass has grown on the lots where buildings were demolished. That, Still said, further prevents spread of any lead that may be in the soil.

The Prairie Street plans call for construction of an overpass hauling traffic along the street over the Norfolk Southern Railroad rail line between Main and Middlebury streets. The demolition creates space for the crossing and a wider roadway, still in the works.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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