City should address peeling lead-based paint in Southwest Side viaducts
Lead is bad news for the healthy development of children, and lead-poisoning cases are most common on the South and West sides.
City health officials say toxic levels of lead found in the peeling paint in the ceilings of five Southwest Side viaducts are not much of a hazard to the children who walk through them on a daily basis.
Most lead poisoning cases involving children stem from flaking paint in homes where they spend hours on end, a health department spokesman told Sun-Times reporter Brett Chase. who wrote about the discovery of the dangerous levels of the metal in the walkways beneath the CSX Transportation-owned rail tracks.
That may be true.
But given that lead is bad news for the healthy development of children and lead-poisoning cases are most common on the South and West sides, it would be prudent for the city to keep tabs on and officially test the viaducts that run along Central Park Avenue from 63rd to 67th streets.
Or at least help clean them up, which is what Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) has asked.
Tabares found out about the lead three years ago when sixth-graders at Eberhart Elementary School concluded a project on the viaducts with the encouragement and assistance of their teacher, Alejandra Frausto.
The children, through Tabares, had hoped to meet with Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady so they could express their concerns. The meeting never happened. Neither did any city-based testing by the Chicago Department of Transportation, Chase found.
CDOT and CSX officials have agreed to speak with Tabares in the near future. When that discussion does take place, Tabares should bring along Frausto and her former students who worked on the 2019 school study.
Frausto, now a doctoral student at Northwestern University, did additional tests on the lead paint in the viaducts last year and shared the results with Tabares. Frausto is the expert and her apprehension is legitimate, environmental specialists and others agreed.
Anyone walking under the viaducts is bringing remnants of the lead on their shoes, strollers or elsewhere into their homes, pointed out Dr. Helen Binns, director of the lead evaluation program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
The city’s health department has certainly made a difference in it efforts to eliminate lead exposure to children: In the 1990s, one in four children tested had elevated lead levels. Today, that figure is less than one in 100.
It wouldn’t hurt for the health and transportation departments to look over what residents found, publicly address their uneasiness and fix the viaducts to eliminate those feelings of being unsafe.
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