By now we’re all familiar with the story of Flint’s water crisis. You may have heard about similar problems in Newark, Pittsburgh, or East Chicago. Indianapolis is no exception, as IUPUI professor Dr. Gabriel Filippelli points out in a recent op ed. News reports from these cities focus on lead in the drinking water, which is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. But drinking water isn’t the only source of dangerous lead contamination. The soil around houses and the dust inside homes can harbor dangerously high levels of lead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that there is no level of lead exposure that can be considered safe for children. Lead exposure in children can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, learning challenges, behavioral issues, and hearing loss. The effects of lead exposure remain when lead is removed from a child’s environment. The heavy metal can linger in a person’s body and cause long-term health problems. Children are not the only ones at risk, either. The CDC reports that, in adults, lead exposure and lead poisoning can cause high blood pressure, kidney damage, brain damage, miscarriage, and infertility.
Exposure to lead is clearly a public health crisis but many are unclear about the dangers posed by long-term exposure. Dr. Filippelli has done extensive research locally and globally into something he calls the “urban lead exposome.” An exposome is the sum total of environmental exposures a person has over their lifetime. Dr. Filippelli is leading a project to map the urban lead exposome and is making his findings available to the public as part of a citizen-science project. Filippelli worked with Indianapolis' Kheprw Institute and residents from a neighborhood on the city's near northwest side to gather soil samples from homes and yards. The value of doing citizen-science is that it gathers data on a scale that would otherwise not be possible for an individual researcher and it puts power in the hands of the neighborhood’s residents.