The headlines out of northern Nigeria scream: Since March 2010, 400 children dead, poisoned by lead dust, and thousands more in need of immediate medical attention because of lead poisoning.
The source of the lead dust is the area’s gold mines. Ore-crushing techniques are releasing contaminated lead dust into the air, and these toxic lead particles are clinging to clothing and buildings, and infiltrating water supplies.
The international watchdog Human Rights Watch said last week that this is the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history. Although clean-up efforts have taken place in some areas, and charities such as Doctors Without Borders have been treating victims, Human Rights Watch says more urgent work needs to be done. It estimates that will cost $4 million to clean up the toxic lead and secure the gold mines.
The Nigerian tragedy should alert everyone to the danger of lead dust poisoning, not just abroad but right here at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 500,000 children under the age of six are poisoned by lead dust in the United States each year. Lead poisoning causes irreversible brain damage in children.
What’s more, a new federal report from an advisory committee of the CDC debunks the myth that lead poisoning affects only the poor. The report states that the adverse health effects of blood poisoning “do not appear to be confined to lower socioeconomic status populations.” That should be a wake-up call for all homeowners, especially those living in the Northeast, where twice as many homes have lead hazards than housing in the South and West.
Consider Westchester County, New York, which has, according to the County Department of Planning, 368,498 housing units. Of these, 307,693, or 80 percent, were built prior to 1980 – and it’s safe to assume most of these homes contain lead paint. Although lead was banned from paint manufacture in 1978, surplus lead-based paint was still on the market years after 1978. In addition, marine varnish is still manufactured with lead, and many homeowners use marine varnish in their homes because they think it is more durable than interior varnish.
Only education, testing and remediation will prevent lead poisoning. RTK Environmental Group’s educational campaign, Bust Lead Dust , was created to increase public awareness of the threat that lurks within their homes. Our goal is to prevent more children from the senseless exposure to an unnecessary health risk. Please join our campaign.