Students spread mulch to suppress lead exposureApril 16, 2018
By LINCOLN WRIGHT
South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — It was damp, drizzling and a little chilly Saturday, but that didn’t stop students from the University of Notre Dame from going out to help spread mulch around houses in the Near Northwest Neighborhood.
The act of spreading fresh mulch around houses may seem like a simple gesture, but it goes a long way in helping to address the neighborhood’s lead problem, said Andre Stoner, the neighborhood networker for the Near Northwest Neighborhood.
“Lead is a heavy metal and it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “We have to learn how to live with it.”
It was late 2016 when the neighborhood began learning it had a serious problem caused by the lead-based paints that were once used to paint houses. Since then, Stoner said, everyone has started getting engaged with Notre Dame to research and educate residents on how to combat the problem.
Called “Mulch Madness,” Saturday’s event was part of Notre Dame’s Back the Bend volunteer day.
Soil can be contaminated by lead as paint chips fall from the outside of houses, especially along drip edges. If kids are playing outside, the contaminated soil can pass the lead on. It’s especially dangerous in the summer when the ground is sometimes dry and dust can be blown around and inhaled.
Adding a layer of mulch provides a barrier to prevent contact with soil that has possibly been contaminated.
In a 15-block area of the Near Northwest Side, Stoner said, they were able to contact about 80 percent of the residents to see if they wanted mulch, which was provided by the city. By the end of the day Saturday, roughly 70 percent of those homes had mulch.
Bobby Fields was out Saturday helping students put mulch around his house. Three of his kids were outside playing, which demonstrated the importance of taking every precaution, he said. There are eights kids in the home, which they have lived in for about a year. Fields isn’t sure yet how much the kids have been exposed in that time.
“I’m doing this for the kids,” he said about putting the mulch out.
Willow Wetherall was also outside her home helping students. Wetherall just moved into her house in December and because it was renovated she wasn’t too concerned with lead inside the home. But ice and snow over the winter pulled down a gutter on one side of the house revealing lead-based paint.
“When that came down and it was visible,” she said, “there’s no getting around the fact that the soil is very likely contaminated.”
She now feels more comfortable that the bare soil is covered, but she is still likely going to take measures like using planters this summer when she gardens with her kids.
Christopher Davis knows all too well the dangers of lead. Just this past week he got the results from his children’s blood tests. His 8-year-old daughter had a lead blood level of eight. His 7-year-old son’s was 11. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says lead blood level should not be above five.
Davis’ 15-month-old, though, had no lead in the blood. Davis said they have been extremely cautious with the baby to avoid lead exposure.
He said his family has lived in their home for about seven years, but he was not aware of the health risks of lead-based paints.
“Not being aware of what lead poising does to your kids is one of the biggest frights I’ve had to deal with,” he said.
Davis said he’s very thankful for the work many in the community have been doing to combat the lead problem. There’s a lot that can be done, like putting out mulch, that many residents weren’t aware of.
“It’s a step,” Davis said. “But it’s one of the steps no one would have been aware of if it wasn’t for people now helping to educate.”
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