JCRC takes on lead poison danger

BY KEREN DOUEK, STAFF WRITER

According to preliminary figures for 2005 from St. Louis and from state of Missouri, 1,010 cases of lead poisoning in children were reported in Missouri in 2005. That number is down from 1,638 in 2003.

When lead paint — found indoors and outdoors in most houses built before 1960 and in many houses built before 1978 — gets old or is disturbed during remodeling and turns into dust or chips, it becomes dangerous.

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Seventy-six percent of all homes in St. Louis County and 99 percent of all homes in the city of St. Louis were built before 1978.

The Jewish Community Relations Council — as part of a national initiative and in cooperation with the national agency, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs — has been addressing poverty issues for two years, and recently put together the JCRC Lead Initiative Speakers Bureau to develop skills to speak at a variety of community venues to create awareness of the enormous problem of lead poisoning in our city as well as possible actions that can be taken to address the issue.

“The mission of our Community Lead Speakers’ Bureau is to spread the word and make a positive difference on the well-being of our St. Louis community,” said Ilene Ordower, co-chair of the initiative. “Although not completely curable, lead poisoning is completely preventable through education and environmental interventions.”

Ordower said the speakers bureau is targeting two specific audiences — neighborhood groups affected by lead poisoning, and those non-affected people who may be able to contribute to change, such as the medical community, landlords, realtors and legislators.

Jeanine Arrighi, the director of Lead Safe St. Louis, directs all lead programs and remediation for the city of St. Louis. She will be involved in training the speakers. Arrighi said historically the city of St. Louis has had one of the country’s worst rates of childhood lead poisoning, placing sixth in the nation in 2003 in terms of the number of children poisoned by lead. The number has since dropped, and Arrighi said she hopes to see that number continue to go down and eventually reach zero.

Judy Riehl, director of the Lead Prevention Coalition — a community group that addresses lead poisoning in the region — will also be training the speakers. Riehl said she expects the initiative to be a “wonderful complement to getting the word out and helping us reach people we couldn’t ordinarily reach.”

“People have a perception that lead poisoning is only an inner-city problem and only happens to children from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” Riehl said. “It is actually an equal-opportunity poison, and it can happen anywhere.”

In addition to house paint, lead poison can be found in painted toys, old furniture, drinking water, imported canned food, crayons, pottery and leaded crystal.

While small children are the most easily poisoned because very small amounts of lead can affect them and they spend most of their time close to the floor and tend to put everything in their mouths, lead poison can affect anyone at any age.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC, said the emphasis will be on getting information out into the community.

“The idea is to train people from the various communities that make up St. Louis … and make sure they have the most up to date information. We want to help any way we can to make sure that every child in St. Louis is tested and that if treatment is necessary that is known and the treatment can be begun.”

There is a state law in Missouri requiring every child in the City of St. Louis under the age of six to be tested each year. According to Arrighi the actual rate of testing has been around 40 percent for the last few years.

Maris Berg, co-chair of the initiative, became involved in the cause when her son, Dr. Daniel Berg, took on lead as a cause while studying medicine at Washington University.

Berg said the initiative is really looking for people to “take this on as their cause and be a part of the speakers bureau, and it would not require a great deal of time, but it would be very meaningful as a way of getting the message out.”

Training for the speakers bureau will be offered from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 21, and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at the Jewish Federation building. Light snacks and beverages will be served.

To reserve please contact Marilyn Ratkin at [email protected] or 314-442-3873 and include your name, phone number, mailing address and e-mail.

Keren Douek is a staff writer and can be reached at [email protected]