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PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT

VICKER'S WAREHOUSE SITE
ANDERSON, MADISON COUNTY, INDIANA


DISCUSSION

Lead is a naturally occurring, bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in the earth's crust. It can be found through all parts of the environment. Most of the lead found in the environment is from human activities like mining, manufacturing, and burning fossil fuels. Lead has many uses. It is used in ammunition, metal products (including solder and pipe), roofing, and in X-ray shielding. The most important use of lead has been in the production of batteries (12).

Exposure to lead can result in serious health problems. The primary target organ for lead toxicity is the brain and central nervous system, especially during fetal and early child development. In children and adults, very high levels of exposure can cause coma, convulsions, and even death. Lower levels of exposure to lead can produce delayed cognitive development, reduced IQ scores, and impaired hearing -- even at exposure levels once thought to cause no harmful effects. Depending on the amount of lead absorbed, exposure can also cause toxic effects on the kidneys, impair regulation of vitamin D, and diminish synthesis of heme in red blood cells. Toxicity can be persistent, and effects on the central nervous system may be irreversible (12)(13).

In recent years, a growing number of investigators have examined the effect of exposure to low levels of lead on young children. The history of research in this field shows a progressive decline in the lowest exposure levels at which adverse health effects can be reliably detected. A threshold level of exposure at which the most sensitive effects occur has not been demonstrated.

Community Health Concerns
A representative from the Madison County Health Department met briefly with ISDH and IDEM representatives during the site visit. ISDH and IDEM were told that local resources are available to provide blood lead screening for the community, if needed. During the site visit, a few individuals who live near the warehouse site were approached. They indicated that children were on the site all the time. None of them appeared to have any pressing health concerns about the site. Other health concerns gathered during site activities are listed below:

  • My daughter suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Could this be related to the lead contamination at the site?
  • What about exposure to lead through consumption of homegrown vegetables?
  • I live across the street from the warehouse site. Could lead have migrated off site to my property?

Description of Population Near the Vicker's Warehouse Site

During the course of investigation at the site, lead contamination levels in residential yards associated with the site have been documented to be below a level of concern (<400 ppm). Lead levels in soils at the dump area, which many residents have used as part of their back yards, have been detected at levels as high as 4,700 ppm. On-site soil sample analysis has indicated the presence of lead at levels as high as 136,000 ppm. High levels of contamination have not been detected over a widespread area outside the site boundaries. After remediation of on-site soils, lead is no longer present at levels of health concern.

Some activities which have occurred at the site, particularly in the dump site area, could have led to exposure to lead-contaminated soils. The construction, excavation, and landscaping projects at the residences adjacent to the dump site could have exposed individuals to subsurface soils, which are contaminated with lead, as well as the contaminated surface soils.

Community members are concerned about gardening in this area and the uptake of lead into their vegetables. Based on sampling results, the residential soil lead levels in the area are relatively low. Research indicates that gardens with lead concentrations up to 1,000 ppm can be used to safely grow fruits, grain crops, leafy, or root vegetables. For leafy and root vegetables, proper washing and peeling is recommended to reduce exposures. (14, 15) An important fact is that soil lead levels at these concentrations pose a greater risk of exposure through incidental ingestion of surface soil for pica children than does consumption of homegrown vegetables. To date, none of the community members have taken advantage of the free lead screening offered by the county health department.

For the concern about the association between lead exposure and rheumatoid arthritis, ISDH offers this information. Lead exposure has been associated with weakness in fingers, wrists, or ankles but not directly associated with arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease characterized by inflammation, degeneration, or metabolic derangement of connective tissue structures.

Many potential sources of lead exists in the environment. More common sources of exposure in the general population include lead-based paint, leaded gasoline, occupational sources, certain foods, metal serving dishes, and cigarettes. In the area near Vicker's Warehouse, individuals probably have been exposed to some of the common sources of lead as well as to contamination from the site. The prudent public health practice is to identify and reduce known sources of lead exposure when possible; therefore, measures should be taken to ensure that residents will not be exposed to lead by contact with lead-contaminated soil at places of work and residence.

ISDH did not received any comments or concerns while this document was available for public comment (September 30, 1999, to November 20, 1999).


CHILD HEALTH INITIATIVE

Children are especially sensitive to the effects of lead. However, currently no exposure is occurring on the site, and lead contamination was below levels of concern in residential yards in the past, but children could have come into contact with the higher levels found in the dump area and warehouse area. We do not know if children have been adversely affected by the contamination at the site. Although ISDH encouraged parents to have their young children tested for lead, no one has took advantage of the free testing. Because the site has been cleaned up, any blood lead testing done now would identify current lead exposures that might be associated with other sources of lead in the home. ISDH still encourages parents to test their children.


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