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Churches partner with IUPUI to provide free home lead test kits for northwest Indianapolis residents

The Indianapolis Ministerium hopes the kits will empower residents to test their homes for lead and seek answers if they get a positive test result.

INDIANAPOLIS — IUPUI said there were pockets of lead contamination in Indianapolis, which is why they have partnered with local churches to provide free home lead testing kits to residents. 

There is no safe amount of lead exposure for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Even low levels of lead in blood have been show to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement,” according to the CDC.   

“The tragedy of lead poisoning is the impacts are permanent and lead is a neurotoxin, so it impacts brain development, and you don’t get that back again,” said Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences and the executive director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University. 

While the effects of lead poisoning are not reversable, childhood exposure to lead poisoning is preventable.  

CHILDHOOD LEAD EXPOSURE IS PREVENTABLE 

Lead is more common in older buildings. Lead-based paints weren’t banned in the United States until 1978, so homes build before then “probably contain lead-based paint. When the pain peels and cracks, it makes lead dust. Children can be poisoned when they swallow or breathe in lead dust,” according to the CDC.  

The CDC also said that “children who live near airports may be exposed to lead in air and soil from aviation gas.” 

“Dust and soil are the number one exposure source for kids, followed closely by probably paint and third, but tragically, water. And I say tragically because when it happens in water its catastrophic like in Flint (Michigan) and (lead poisoning) can happen to tens of thousands of kids,” said Filippelli.  

“We’ve been working on lead issues, lead contamination issues for 15 years, particularly in Indianapolis. And what we find is there’s pockets of contamination, mostly in the soil and dust. And one of those pockets is in northwest Indianapolis and it results in a disproportionate amount of children being lead poisoned in that area,” Filippelli added. 

INDIANAPOLIS HAS POCKETS OF LEAD CONTAMINATION 

He said the likely areas for lead contamination in Indianapolis are “legacy areas with lead in the soil or dust."

“So that includes northwest Indianapolis, all the way to the near north side, near east and near south side. (The lead levels) were something like five times higher than they were to the near portion to downtown Indianapolis,” he added. “There’s (a) high proportion of kids that do show up for lead positioning and it’s spotty and one of those areas is northwest Indianapolis.

“We simply need to know more about the environment there so we can do a better job of protecting children,” said Filippeli.  

WHAT IS LEAD POISINING? 

Lead poisoning can cause a host of health issues from developmental delays, to learning difficulties, irritability, fatigue, seizures, and an eating disorder called pica where people eat things that aren’t food such as paint chips or chalk.  

“Difficulty reading, slow initiation of speech, school and behavioral difficulty. Parents may have in the past described it as ‘I have a bad kid,’ well in some of these cases they weren’t a bad kid, they were lead poisoned,” said Filippeli.  

MORE SCIENTIFIC DATA NEEDED 

IUPUI partnered with the Indianapolis Ministerium to provide free home test kits to residents.  

“You can test soil, dust, and water and paint in the same household,” said Filippelli. “And we can return very specific recommendations."

So far, approximately 200 kits have been mailed out, according to Filippelli. He said that another 400 kits are on standby as the pandemic slowed the project temporarily. Of the 200 kits, so far around 40 have come back, and of those, the lab has already tested half. 

“So far, the 20 we tested didn’t see any positive for water, but about half were positive for soil and a handful for paint,” said Filippelli.  

The results will also be published in journals, “but most people don’t read journals, nor should they have to, they need the information sent directly to them and that’s another part of our commitment,” said Filippelli. “We can produce a kit for a $1 or $1.50, but it’s free to the participant, but if you were to try to test paint, soil, water and dust through a commercial service it would cost hundreds of dollars."

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY 

The Indianapolis Ministerium is hoping these kits will empower residents. 

“Self-determination,” said Pastor Ivan Hicks of the First Baptist Church North Indianapolis. “You don’t have to go through the health department to get your lead testing done."

If the results come back that there is lead in the household, “then you are in a position to know how to deal with your landlord, your pipes or your children’s behavior,” said Hicks. He said that along with the results, recommendations are provided on what to do next.  

“Very little has been done for promote environmental justice when it comes to contamination by things like lead. It ends up most of the kids who come back positive for lead, or lead poisoning are usually, low-income communities, children of color, and we want to fight against that,” said Filippelli. “And one of the ways we can do that is to provide real science in people's home, so that we can help challenge. If you have a generation of kids lead poisoning their future isn’t very rosy."

He said that lead poisoning is a long-term community issue, not just an individual health issue.  

"The impacts communities have seen, and we’ve measured this in other places, is students have low school performance, very high expulsion rate, and can be prone to then violent criminality. In fact, there’s a pretty direct link between youth exposure to lead and subsequent violent crimes,” said Filippelli. “I’m not saying that everyone who commits violent crimes is lead-exposed, however there is a correlation there, and that’s what a community might see."

The home lead kit project is currently in its infancy and those involved are hoping that this will provide a road map for a new way to deal with a longstanding environmental issue that tends to largely impact disenfranchised communities.

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