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Officials: St. Louis demolitions could reverse lead progress

January 13, 2019

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis has seen lead poisoning cases drop dramatically since the 1990s, but officials are growing worried that the city’s demolitions are reversing years of progress and putting children at risk.

More than 2,600 St. Louis children last year were found to have measurable lead levels in their blood, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. City officials are concerned that a renewed call to demolish vacant buildings is contributing to a risk in lead poisoning in concentrated neighborhoods.

The finding comes as St. Louis was beginning to see the success of its aggressive campaign to eradicate lead poisoning by 2010. St. Louis saw its number of elevated blood lead levels drop from nearly 1 in 3 children in 2000 to about 1 in 50 for the last few years.

There’s no safe amount of lead in a body, which can cause permanent damage to developing brains, stunt growth and lead to other health and behavioral issues.

“All the money and time and effort trying to reduce the blood lead levels in children, we do not want to reverse that because of demolition practice,” said Frank Oswald, the city’s building commissioner.

The main source of lead poisoning in the city comes from lead paint, which was used in the majority of St. Louis housing built before the paint was banned in 1978. Demolitions of old homes often kick up and spread leaded dust.

“If you demolish an old house, you put up this cloud of dust that blows with the wind, deposits in your yard and creates a potential risk,” said Felicia Rabito, an environmental epidemiologist from Tulane University.

Other cities like Detroit have blamed demolitions for a rise in children with lead poisoning, and the exposure has been linked to a higher risk of criminal behavior as adults. But there aren’t any federal, state or local laws requiring the removal of lead in a home or building before its demolition.

Rabito said the city is missing the financial and political will to take the necessary precautions in demolition work.

Before September, St. Louis used to only require demolition companies to spray work sites with a hose, which some city officials called insufficient to reducing leaded dust. Now contractors have to use large misting fans to wet down buildings during demolition.

The city’s economic development agency, St. Louis Development Corp., is testing an alternative process this year that deconstructs buildings piece by piece. The more expensive process is used to salvage materials as well as reduce health risks from dust and debris. City officials said it isn’t financially feasible to use “deconstruction” to remove all of St. Louis’ 12,000 vacant properties, but they hope to expand the 30-building pilot project in the future.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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