Getting the lead out: Notre Dame research project aims to test for lead in homes


Getting the lead out. That's the goal behind a Notre Dame research project on area homes.

Students and researchers spent the summer working with families -- testing their homes. This could make their kids healthier.

It's all part of a collaboration with the St. Joseph County Health Department, the City of South Bend, the University of Notre Dame and the community.

Notre Dame's researchers told homeowners where the lead hazards are and ways to get rid of it.

They worked one on one with six families who have children with elevated lead levels. Levels not high enough to get direct assistance from the County's Health Department.

An unwelcomed surprise for this South Bend mom of six who didn't want to be identified on camera.

She didn't know her 1898 home was covered in lead until a routine blood test showed high levels in her child's blood.

"It's your children's health that's at risk. That's nothing to joke around with,” she said.

A lead grant fixed the windows and resided the entire house. Now, Notre Dame researchers found lead in places she least expected-- like the legs of this table that her toddlers often put their mouths on.

"We looked at paint chips, we looked at dirt around the home and some other items in and around the home and we did some water samples too,” said Marya Lieberman, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at University of Notre Dame.

Researchers say they found lead in the soil of every home they worked with. That's because the lead paint and lead dust from the home has deteriorated in the soil over time.

"That's a source of lead we hadn't thought about very much previously,” said Graham Peaslee, Professor of Physics at University of Notre Dame.

Peaslee and his student researchers found lead in items all around a home that parents may not have been aware of. Things like keys and fidget spinners.

His students are hoping to soon use this particle accelerator to test hundreds of samples a day.

"The advent of new technology means that we can look at samples rapidly and therefore we can change how lead is being found in our children,” said Peaslee.

Peaslee says this could help researchers test up to 10,000 homes in the community every year.

It's an idea that's welcoming for moms like this, knowing there's people out there to help get the lead out.

"They don't let you go through it alone. Which is a great thing,” she said.

Data from the St. Joseph County Health Department shows less than 10-percent of kids in the county are tested for lead.

Researchers at Notre Dame say they're looking for support from the County and City to fund this research. They're also hoping to apply for federal grants.

Researchers want more families to take part in this program this Fall.

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