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Philadelphia’s Emerging Lead-Contamination Crisis

This weekend, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran the most recent installment of its series “Toxic City,” written by Wendy Ruderman, Barbara Laker, and Dylan Purcell.  The series examines environmental risks to the City’s residents, especially those who are poor, minorities, and children.

The first installment exposed the harm lead paint in old homes to primarily poor children.  This most recent installment exposed a new kind of harm, one not often considered, in the context of new homes.

Lead contamination is not limited to paint chips and corroded water pipes.  According to this weekend’s installment, a blitz of residential construction and development in Philadelphia’s “River Wards” (Fishtown, Kensington, and Port Richmond) have unearthed lead which had settled in the soils when that area was home to 14 out of 36 lead smelters operating in the City.  When old homes are razed, lots are excavated, and earth is moved, dust and debris carrying lead spreads throughout these densely packed, now mostly residential neighborhoods.  Lead in clouds of dust is fine enough to be breathed in, and lead dust that has settled on soil and other surfaces easily finds its way into children’s mouth once it is on their hands. Alarmingly high levels of lead – above federally established thresholds – were detected not only at playgrounds and construction sites themselves, but on front stoops and in backyards.  This creates a doubly hazardous scenario for children, as a toxicologist quoted in the article noted: “Ingestion is bad.  Inhalation is worse.”

As the construction boom continues, regulatory authorities shrug their shoulders, each suggesting someone else is responsible for abating the spread of lead contamination.  From the article:

Federal, state, and city officials, who have known about lead in the soil here for decades, quibble over who, if anyone, should regulate development within a former industrial area. State and federal officials say they only oversee development and cleanup within the boundaries of known contaminated sites. City officials say they don’t regulate soil.

But despite the apparent lack of regulatory involvement, the scientific community is organizing to bring more attention and resources to this and similar environmental issues.

In order to determine whether children blood lead levels are elevated, parents should consult with their children’s doctor.  And even in cases where lead poisoning has not occurred, the article makes clear that residents (homeowners or buyers) are suffering from nuisances that diminish their ability to enjoy the use of their homes.   Neighbors need not wait for regulatory authorities to spring to action.  Our experienced environmental attorneys are available for free consultations.

For more information, call our environmental lawyers at Williams Cedar at 215-557-0099 or contact us online.

By Chris Markos