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Lead contamination around closed Philadelphia factory threatens health of children, pregnant women

Lead contamination

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(NaturalNews) Lead contamination and various other types of pollution have plagued Philadelphia for decades. Dating back to the 1800s, the densely populated city served as a home to a booming industrial district, ripe with a variety of manufacturers including textile mills, chemical factories, ironworks and lead-producing companies.

The dissolution of the industrial era paved the way for urban development, offering city dwellers high-density living, neighborhood parks, shopping and restaurants. Remnants of the industry remain visible among streets lined with dilapidated buildings; however, something far more sinister exists beyond the eye's detection.

Philadelphia was home to various types of lead production for more than 140 years. The industry operated under several different names including National Lead, John T. Lewis and Anzon, according to a report by USA Today.

The aftermath of industrialization takes a toll on people's health and the environment

The National Lead Company, today known as Houston-based NL Industries, opened shop in Philadelphia in 1772. The factory specialized in producing lead-based paints, which were sold under the Dutch Boy label. During the 1920s, National Lead manufactured solder, pipes and bearing metals, later even working on atomic bombs for the U.S. government.

By the 1930s, National Lead became the largest lead company in the United States, producing 100,000 tons of the toxic metal throughout the company's various plants, generating nearly $5 million by 1927.

The 8.5-acre site closed its doors in 1996, which was largely paved over and redeveloped. Today, Pizza Hut, drug stores, gas stations and other city shops occupy the land where the plant once stood.

Since the 1980s, federal health officials have known about the lead that's contaminated the soil, posing serious health risks to those exposed, particularly young children and pregnant women.

Despite numerous studies showing high lead concentrations in the soil; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to take proper action toward cleaning up the site.

Further soil testing and analysis was conducted by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Their latest findings, which were released in a report dated June 3, revealed that 37 percent of pregnant women living at properties with lead-contaminated soil near the former lead plant may be exposed to lead levels high enough to harm developing fetuses.

Exposure to lead can occur through inhalation or ingestion, and be particularly damaging for children under the age of six. Even in small doses, the heavy metal can reduce IQs and inhibit learning abilities, affecting areas of the brain responsible for speech, language and behavior.

Lead can also cause kidney damage, decreased bone and muscle growth, nervous system impairment and attention-deficit disorder.

More than 75 percent of young children are at risk of being poisoned by the lead-contaminated soil by playing in the dirt outside their homes, according to the ATSDR report.

EPA uses education to treat lead-contaminated soil

Instead of cleaning up the soil, the EPA intends to use education and awareness to treat the problem, a decision that's left many residents upset and frustrated.

"We've known this was an issue for a long time. The last thing we need is to produce another study," said Shanta Schachter, deputy director of New Kensington Community Development, a group that supports sustainable development.

"The end result that's needed is the soil and the environment needs to be cleaned. Nobody should have to live in elevated lead environments," said Schachter.

Because the region is known for its industrial practices, health officials say all of Philadelphia's soil could be contaminated, and that old homes with lead-based paint could also be contributing to the contamination.

"We're telling people in a variety of ways how to prevent exposure," said EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Smith. "We're taking this educational approach because urban lead is prevalent throughout the country."

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