Katrina may have lowered lead levels in soil

So much hardship came from Hurricane Katrina, but so did lessons. Eleven-years later a researcher says the storm is making a difference with a dangerous health problem in the city.

NEW ORLEANS  - It's hard to believe anything positive could come from Hurricane Katrina, but 11 years later, a researcher says the storm is making a difference with a dangerous health problem in the city.

While the issue of lead in the soil is better, there is still a lot that is concerning.

Doctors have repeatedly explained that no level of lead in our bodies is safe. They say even low blood levels hurt IQs, academic achievement and behavior, especially in children.

That's why this new finding is so important.

In the early 1980s, scientists such as Dr. Howard Mielke, warned the federal government that leaded gasoline in the 60s and 70s, was contaminating the soil and poisoning our children.

"The sensitivity of children is extraordinary and they're picking it up from the air. They're picking it up from the hands the soils," said Dr. Howard Mielke in the Department of Pharmacology at Tulane. 

It can be passed on in the womb after being stored in the bones for decades. It causes brain damage that hurts learning and impulse control.

"It's very closely related to violence and a lot of work has been done in prison systems and other places where there's incarceration taking place that, the most violent of the prisoners tend to have high lead levels, and showing up in the bones," he said.

In 25 years of studies in the New Orleans area, Dr. Mielke found extremely high lead levels in the high traffic areas of the 60s and 70s. Before Hurricane Katrina he suggested clean spillway soil be used over contaminated soil at some homes and daycare centers. It worked. Lead levels in blood went down. In his new published study in 'Environmental International,'  he discovered Katrina did something good.

"A very large reduction in both the soil lead and even larger reduction in blood lead. Tremendous reductions took place," Dr. Mielke said he found in his research. 

He believes the flood surge brought cleaner top soil from the coastal area, while pushing some smaller lead particles deeper into the ground. At the same time, homes were cleaned out and contractors brought in cleaner soil. But he says soil lead levels are a serious, long-term public health problem and wants the city to go back to geotextile fabric covers with spillway top soil before building for children.

"I think it's terribly important that the city re-establish their clean playground projects that they started to do then stopped." 

The percentage of children with very high blood lead levels in those contaminated neighborhoods went from 64 percent to 19 percent after the storm.

Here is the full statement from the City of New Orleans:

The City of New Orleans is committed to ensuring the health and welfare of our residents, especially children. Lead in the soil is a particular issue for kids under 6 years old who may ingest the soil around a park or playground. After Mayor Landrieu took office, the City conducted testing of 18 parks and playgrounds for elevated levels of lead in the soil in 2011 and 2012. This work was guided by the research of Dr. Howard Mielke.
Our investigations found 15 public areas to have elevated lead levels that required remediation. The City closed the 15 impacted parks and playgrounds to the public and performed mitigation. Depending on the locations where the soil lead level exceeded the current soil standards, procedures included:  
  • Placing geotextile fabric over areas where elevated lead levels were found, then covering these areas with clean soil and then mulch or sod;
  • Excavating elevated lead soil, placing geotextile fabric, covering these areas with clean soil , and then sod; and
  • Placing clean soil and sod only.
Following remediation, testing was conducted at all 15 parks and playgrounds listed below were found to be safe.
At this time, the City has planned capital improvements at four playgrounds (Goretti Playground, Delery Playspot, Kerry Curley Playground and Leo Benewell Playground) that will be tested as well.
The following City parks and playgrounds were remediated for lead:
1.    Daneel Playground (5501 St. Charles Ave.)
2.    Taylor Playground (2600 S. Roman St. )
3.    Annunciation Recreation Center (800 Race St.)
4.    Easton Playground (3141 Toulouse St.)
5.    Van McMurray Playground (200 Philip St.)
6.    Hunter’s Field Playground (1601 N. Claiborne Ave.)
7.    Burke Playground (2524 Annunciation St.)
8.    Lemann Playground (628 N. Claiborne Ave.)
9.    Stallings St. Claude Recreation Center (4300 St. Claude Ave.)
10.  Comiskey Playground (600 S. Jefferson Davis Pkwy.)
11.  Treme Recreation Community Center (900 N. Villere St.)
12.  Desmare Playground (3456 Esplanade Ave.)
13.  Cabrini Park (1219 Dauphine St.)
14.  Mickey Markey Playground (3301 Royal St.)
15.  A.L. Davis Playground (2600 LaSalle St.)

(© 2016 WWL)


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