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The disproportionate harm lead poses to Near Eastside neighborhoods

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Childhood blood lead levels have decreased in Indiana in recent years, but blood lead levels remain high in some Near Eastside neighborhoods, SAVI Talks found in a recent Data and Drafts report.   

SAVI talks explored childhood lead exposure in Marion County, with particular focus on Martindale-Brightwood and the Near Eastside where lead levels are artificially increased and resultingly have a greater impact on children’s futures.

Even minor lead exposure in childhood can have long-term consequences, such as diminished IQ, behavioral problems and developmental issues. 

Lead poisoning ultimately decreases attention and increases impulsivity. About 2,000 Hoosier children are affected by lead poisoning annually and less than 12% are tested every year, according to Cassidy Segura Clouse, a paralegal who focuses on lead as it pertains to public policy. Once the damage is done, there is no reversing it, Clouse added.

Early lead exposure in childhood has been linked to juvenile and adult delinquency, a loss of potential lifetime earnings, difficulty learning and damage to the nervous system. 

One of the major risk factors for exposure is older housing. More than 65% of housing in Marion County was built prior to lead paint being outlawed in 1980. For 22 neighborhoods dubbed as “Promise Zones,” nearly 90% of housing was built pre-1980. 

Promise Zones are communities partnered with the federal government and local leaders to create neighborhood goals and priorities, according to indyeast.com. 

The average blood lead level in children under five is higher in those living in Indy’s Promise Neighborhoods. Consequently, children in Promise Neighborhoods lose out on lifetime earnings more so than their peers due to lead exposure. From 2009 to 2021, SAVI Talks estimated that $126 million was lost from children’s potential earnings in Promise Neighborhoods, while another $48 million was lost from lead exposure. 

Average blood lead levels remain higher in Promise Neighborhoods when compared to the rest of Marion County. Both are higher than the national average. 

RELATED: IUPUI offers free lead screening kits

To some, lead exposure is a civil rights issue. 

Sixty-three percent of children with elevated blood-lead levels in 2019 were non-white, despite white people making up 85% of the population. 

The Indiana Advisory Committee wrote its 2020 report to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights entirely on lead poisoning stating: “Indiana has a troubling history with caring for and protecting non-white residents from lead poisoning.”

What can be done? 

Low-cost, simple interventions are available to significantly reduce lead exposure, according to SAVI Talks. Regular household cleaning can reduce lead concentrates up to 34%. Simple, effective solutions include: 

Leaving shoes off at the door: Shoes can track in lead from soil and the perimeter of homes and leaving them at the door naturally reduces the risk of bringing lead inside. 
Covering bare soil: Lead is often greatest around the perimeter alongside a home and covering soil makes it harder for children to play in exposed soil. Planting grass or covering bare soil with mulch or tarp can reduce risk. 

Cleaning regularly: Lead can easily accumulate dust within a home, especially if it is flaking off paint or brought inside from the soil. Vacuuming and mopping regularly can reduce risk. 

Keeping children away from peeling paint: Children may be drawn to lead paint’s sweet flavor. Check your home for peeling paint and try to create a barrier to prevent children from reaching it. 

Marion County residents can also pick up a lead screening kit from 18 Indianapolis Public Library locations

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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