Tribune-Review – Concerned Wilkinsburg residents and community leaders met Wednesday to sift through a report on the high level of lead exposure in the borough and what to do about it.
The report, “Get the Lead Out, Wilkinsburg” was compiled by Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh and Women for a Healthy Environment. It detailed results of a lead risk assessment performed in 65 homes across Wilkinsburg in late 2019. It included testing for lead in soil, water, paint, and dust.
Paint was identified as the leading source of exposure to lead hazards, showing up in 51 of the tested homes.
The study also revealed that 78% of the residents who participated in the study weren’t aware of the potential risks from exposure to lead.
“We need to ensure that our residents and business owners are aware of these effects and can continue this conversation with action to get us closer to alleviating, preferably eliminating, high lead levels in our area,” said Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett.
Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh, a public awareness campaign, embarked on the study after the Allegheny County Health Department revealed that children in Wilkinsburg tested for elevated blood lead levels at a rate more than three times higher than Allegheny County’s average.
“No level of lead is safe in children. Lead is a neurotoxin that affects growing brains,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment. “There are so many repercussions with children, especially as their brain is growing so rapidly and you see impacts to academic achievement that have been studied and demonstrated.
“That’s why we wanted to identify sources of lead exposure in Wilkinsburg and work with the borough to find ways to remove lead hazards and educate the community about lead’s harmful effects.”
Garrett said she was not surprised by the results.
“With Allegheny County and all of the municipalities being an aging region, it’s not too much a surprise,” Garrett said. “We see that these rates tend to be higher in the communities that are Black and brown and also that have a lower socio-economic status.”
Garrett said there is one thing government can do immediately to address concerns about lead.
“Blight is a major concern in our area and as we address blight, as there are demolitions which we have a lot of in Wilkinsburg, make sure those are lead safe demolitions so that the hazardous chemicals and materials from that structure aren’t further being spread into our soil and our land,” she said.
Naccarati-Chapkis said federal American Rescue Plan Act funds can potentially help local officials deal with lead hazards.
“We have to get ahead of the problem, recognizing that there’s just no amount of lead exposure that’s considered safe,” she said. “This is a decades-old problem. But we have unique opportunities to address it head on to ensure that no child in the county has a diagnosis of lead poisoning moving forward.”