A safe place for River Wards residents?

People in Fishtown, Northern Liberties and beyond react to news of dangerous led levels in soil

Safe place to play? : Rowe, right, and Ronny Weber play at the Shissler Recreation Center on Blair Street, across the street from a construction site. High levels of lead dust were determined to be at the construction site.

By Logan Krum

When Jana Curtis and her family arrive at her York Street home, no shoes are allowed inside. She mops the floors once a day and vacuums at least twice. She doesn’t trust the ground or air around her.
River Wards residents gathered at the Atonement Lutheran Church on Wednesday, June 21 to discuss how to respond to reports detailing dangerous levels of lead in the area’s soil. If children are exposed to high levels, it can cause permanent brain damage. If adults are exposed to low levels for an extended period of time, it can cause less extreme brain damage.
Philly.com published a story last Sunday detailing the high levels of lead present in soil around the area, which was once an industrial paradise.
Approximately 60 residents gathered at the meeting, coming and going, sitting in chairs or crouching at child-height tables in the room usually used by By My Side Neighborhood Parenting. By the end of the night, they had formed Get the Lead OUT: Riverwards Philadelphia. The group on Facebook gathered more than 500 members less than a week after the meeting.
At one point, Philadelphia was home to 36 lead smelters, the most of all American cities. Fourteen were located in the river wards.
Thought to be a distant memory, lead that had lain underground for decades has been kicked up by the recent development and construction boom in areas such as Fishtown.
The Inquirer and Daily News found nearly three-fourths of the 114 areas tested exposed soil that contained hazardous levels of contamination. They also discovered high levels of lead dust in areas surrounding construction sites, on sidewalks and rowhouse stoops. Their article Toxic City: Tainted Soil includes results from five months’ worth of testing soil.
Curtis took part in a study in 2014 that checked dust and soil samples, as well as a blood lead level test for her oldest child, Liam. Her second child, Nolyn, was too young at the time to be tested.
The results of the survey revealed the soil in her yard tested at 1,100 parts for million, nearly three times higher than the federal limit. Federal guidelines advise not to allow children in areas with 150 ppm.
Curtis immediately took Nolyn to the pediatrician. Seven months old at the time, Nolyn was revealed to have a lead level of 14 micrograms per deciliter, far above the hazard level of 5. Children exposed to that level or higher could exhibit increased levels of hyperactivity or aggression, and lose six IQ points on average.
Low level exposure for adults can cause memory loss or depression, or also affect the heart, kidneys and reproductive functions.
“We keep our windows closed,” Curtis said at the meeting. “We go shoeless, and we don’t eat snacks in the playground or the yard. It’s all really basic, but we just have to be vigilant about it.”
Curtis is using her story to inform others. Leo Voloshin immediately contacted a pediatrician when he read the article.
Voloshin has a 3-and-a-half-year old child who tested at a 4. He said he is following the precautions listed in the article.
“I went on Monday [the day after the article released],” he said, and encouraged other parents to do the same.
Most doctors and pediatricians offer lead testing. Voloshin said it was easy to get his kids tested.
Mayya Hyatt moved to the city a year ago, and is expecting her first child.
“It’s scary to think about,” she said. She wants to be as informed and protective as possible for when her child comes.
At the end of the meeting, the group established several main objectives, including gathering information on best practices and making it easily accessible for everyone.
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, July 6, at 7 p.m.