Lead Poisoning Affects Mental and Physical development of Children. Like Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary, I asked myself long ago, “What is wrong with my people?” In love and wonder, I sort the truth about the condition of the Black Youth more than any other portion of the black population. As a mom of 9 children raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, in poverty, I questioned the mentality and aggressive behavior of the black children in my neighborhood, in the HUD run housing projects, and the New Orleans public schools. I love my people, but,“What in the hell is wrong with our children?”
In 1998, I graduated from college, at the late age of 49. I was now ready to tackle the problem of black youth in the New Orleans area. I had become an elementary schoolteacher. I was going to give my students the love, assurance, and confidence I had given my own children. These were the missing links. I was sure of that. Sad to say, I was wrong. There were so many pieces to the puzzle that I did not know where to begin. Children came to school angry. Good morning had no meaning to their ears. An accidental stare could light a fuse, and an inquiring word could ignite a bomb. Boom! Bang! Run! Look! Hit him! Hit her! Don’t let him get away with that. I witnessed these behaviors from second grade through eighth. I was actually afraid to teach high school. At least one-third of my students in any given class displaced aggressive behavior. I asked myself, “How could they get so angry in such a short lifetime?” They were babies with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Many of them did not have the carefree life children should have.
Above the family problems, the poverty, and the absent dad; I knew there was something external affecting the internal of a great portion of our youth. Then one day somewhere between 1999-2001 the schools in New Orleans were enduring lead level testing of the playground and classroom dust. Reports showed that inner-city school had high levels of lead in surface soil and lingering dust on window sills and bookcases. High levels of LEAD! Bingo! This is what in the hell is wrong with our kids. Lead poisoning! Exterior affecting interior!
I began my research and study to learn as much as I could about this dangerous environment we lived in and worked in. What was it doing to our children? A study titled, “Soil Lead at Elementary Public Schools: Comparison Between School Properties and Residential Neighborhoods of New Orleans” published in Environmental Geochemistry and Health Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 27-36, Cover Date 1999-03, published by Kluwer Academic Publishers, disclosed some startling facts about lead levels in inner-city public schools. New Orleans schools were among the study group. Thirty New Orleans Public Elementary Schools were selected for this study. Inner‐city school properties present a higher risk of soil lead exposure than mid and outer‐city schools.
Soils next to inner‐city school entrances showed the highest lead, with 18.5% having concentrations over 400 μg g −1 . Now I am not A LEAD EXPERT, and I may not offer the best interpretation of this study, but it caught my attention as a serious matter. The very introduction stated what I had already suspected. Lead exposure and toxicity are prevalent among children living in urban areas of the United States. In 1988, a report to Congress identified lead poisoning as one of the most important toxicological insults affecting young children (ATSDR,1988). Chronic exposure to amounts of blood lead as low as 10 μg g −1 is known to cause adverse neurological, neurobehavioral and developmental effects in children. (Meshach et al., 1989)
Whereas the study revealed a reduction in blood lead levels nationwide, but the inner city children were displaying higher blood lead levels. This explained to me the low academic performance and aggressive behavior patterns I had noticed among a large percentage of my students. These children were being deprived of the peace of life that is everyone’s ‘GOD GIVEN RIGHT’. It began to make sense that poverty was not the major cause, but rather the keepers of the gate of the improvised neighborhoods-The rental property owners who were collecting high Section 8 rent payments, HUD property housing projects, and city officials in charge of schools and their upkeep.
The dangers of lead poisoning have been exposed and outlawed since 1964. Houses and building built before 1970 could still have lead-based paint or pipes which would cause a greater danger to younger children. Maryland Health Department reported, “Lead poisoning can cause permanent brain damage, resulting learning disabilities, behavior problems, seizures and mental retardation.” (Seven Schools Undergo Lead Test, The Capital-Arundel Report, July 17, 1986, pg.35) Although federal guidelines to the protection of American children against lead poisoning orders all departments of Housing and Urban Development units and landlords receiving Section 8 housing subsidies to test all properties and to eliminate lead from their houses there were no checks and balances to see if such renovations were carried out. We must inquire or demand that properties and yards are cleared of lead, the proper mental and physical development of black youths depend on it.
Nuwla contributor – Momma J (Janice Hutchinson)
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Janice Hutchinson is a retired schoolteacher with innate desires to teach blacks in America we can create our freedom. The New Orleans native, mother of nine children and 24 grandchildren, volunteers as a program organizer for Black Wall Street New Orleans, a chapter of Black Wall Street USA. Janice thinks of herself as a black, proud, race-conscious woman. And describes herself as a late bloomer into the activist role and an evolutionary product of true spirituality.