Historic mining pollution and the psychology of stigma have produced an unhealthy situation in the Silver Valley. Sue Moodie, a toxicologist from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that feelings of “blame, shame and guilt” cause some parents to forgo blood-lead tests for their children. Her research was recently published in a scientific journal.
It’s understandable that anyone would want to avoid bad news like that. Many people put off visits to the doctor for fear of what they’d learn. It’s a human reaction, but it isn’t the best choice.
Yes, it would be difficult to keep it quiet if one had a “leaded” child, especially in the small-town atmosphere in and around “the Box,” which is the area that was heavily polluted from the Bunker Hill Smelter’s lead emissions. But the reality is that such children need to be monitored and possibly treated. The level of exposure is critical and it can’t be measured with denial. Plus, if a child shows exposure, the source needs to be identified and eliminated so that others aren’t harmed.
The Box is cleaner than it used to be, thanks to the lengthy cleanup under the federal Superfund designation. But it isn’t free from danger. Exposure to lead can lead to a host of health problems, including lowered IQ and central nervous system breakdowns. Children are particularly susceptible because their bodies are still developing and they’re more liable to play in dirt and dust contaminated with lead.
An Environmental Protection Agency official has downplayed Moodie’s research, noting that for three years ending in 2002, 95 percent of children tested had blood-lead levels below the public-action threshold established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that doesn’t address the children who haven’t been tested in the first place. About half the households Moodie surveyed in Kellogg and Wardner had never taken part in the Panhandle Health District’s free blood-lead screening. Only eight children inside the Box were tested in 2007.
Moodie found that some of the reluctance to testing was tied to parents’ fears of being perceived as bad parents. Other families figured the danger had passed.
But the relative safety of the region can’t be determined unless people consistently participate in testing and monitoring. It would help if more people looked favorably upon parents who get their children regularly screened. Scornful gossip just drives the problem underground.