Penn Student Interns work to Reduce Lead Exposure in West Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA
Tabeen Hossain, Sara Labrum, Jessica Meeker
In collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center, Earth and Environmental Science Department, and Center for Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), Professor Rich Pepino is leading a diverse group of experts and student researchers, with backgrounds in public health and environmental science, to investigate lead exposure and potential human health risks in Philadelphia and Lancaster. The project was funded by a Making a Difference Challenge Grant funded by the School of Arts and Sciences.
According to the CDC, an elevated blood lead level (BLL) is considered >5mcg/dL and in both Lancaster and Philadelphia cities, over ten percent of children fall above this threshold.
Although lead in water has been thrust into the news post the crisis in Flint, Michigan, people, especially children, can also be exposed to lead from paint from older homes and contaminated soil from a variety of residential and industrial sites. In Philadelphia these routes of exposure for childhood lead exposure are more likely.
As part of the grant, student researchers have gone out into the community and done extensive soil sampling in Lancaster, PA as well as in West Philadelphia zip codes 19151, 19139 and 19131. Homes that have measured high lead levels in soil were most likely painted with lead paint. Exterior lead paint flakes into the soil, which children ingest when playing outside. Interior lead paint can peel or create dust containing lead, which children can ingest or inhale as they crawl on the ground or pull themselves up on the windowsills. In houses built before 1978 (the year indoor leaded paint was banned) we can assume that lead paint is probably present. Even if the house has been repainted with non-lead based paint, it is important to wet dust the home often and keep the paint chip free, as the wear on window frames due to sliding windows can expose old layers of lead-containing paint and add to the lead dust in the home.
On June 10th and June 24th, student researchers held soil shops at the Overbrook Environmental Center in West Philadelphia. Residents brought Ziploc bags of soil from their yards, which were then tested on-site for presence and level of lead, in addition to other heavy metals. Students had been trained using a compact and transportable device called the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, which allows for immediate testing of the community members’ soil. Data that students collected from over 300 soil samples from West Philadelphia community members’ yards, were simultaneously presented as part of a lead training seminar for community leaders. Jack Kelly from Region 3 US-EPA and Professor Richard Pepino provided lectures discussing potential risks to children under six (which generally reflects the most affected population).
Following the second soil shop, the student sampling team collected soil from the yard of State Senator Vincent Hughes’ office. Due to a fire and demolition in a nearby church, a resident was concerned about lead in her yard due to blowing soil from this site and students have since followed up with her as well as the Rector of the Overbrook Church. An additional soil shop will be held in Lancaster, PA on July 27th, which will be modeled after the soil shops that have been held in Philadelphia.
The School of Arts and Sciences grant is focusing on creating lead awareness in Philadelphia neighborhoods and assisting the Philadelphia Water Department in implementing the lead service line replacement program in residential properties.
Pictured: Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director of Overbrook Environmental Center; Tiffany Wilson, Director of Constituent Services for Pennsylvania Senator Vincent Hughes; Professor Rich Pepino of the University of Pennsylvania; and Maurice Sampson, from Clean Water Action, standing in front of State Senator Vincent Hughes’ office. Senator Hughes’ office was a stop on the soil sampling tour of West Philadelphia following the event at Overbrook Environmental Center on Saturday, June 24th.