St. Joseph County Board of Health call lead situation 'dire'

St. Joseph County Board of Health call lead situation "dire." // WSBT 22 photo

When you think of lead poisoning, images of the water in Flint, Michigan may come to mind, but tests show high levels of lead on the northwest side of South Bend. It's not from the water, but from dust and chips of lead paint in older homes.

The St. Joseph County Board of Health is talking about the issue. Dale Deardorff, the president of the board, said South Bend may not be the only area in the county at risk. He said any home that was built before 1980 could potentially have exposure to lead in it.

The board meeting was short tonight, but the intent behind it was clear-- to figure out a way to tackle the lead problem that members of the board call dire.

"What the department felt it was time for us to say was 'Yes, we are stepping up to the table for this, and we will be a part of the process to help the city and help the community,'" said Deardorff.

The board voted on an outline plan. It touches on better diagnosis, community collaboration and education.

"Basically it comes down to education. Education of the family, education of the providers, as well to look for that particular risk and try to minimize the risk," said Deardorff.

Deardorff echoes what people were told by city leaders on Saturday at a community meeting about the lead problem. People who have suffered from lead paint in their homes told their stories. Christopher Davis' kids have high levels of lead in their blood. He said he never knew to get them tested because he didn't know the house they live in is covered in lead paint.

"We painted, thinking that, OK we can change it. That didn't help us," said Davis.

He doesn't own his house, that's why they can't completely gut it and start over. He said city and county leaders haven't helped much.

"OK what do we do? Nobody has an answer, but what do we do?" he said.

The city and the county acknowledge a lack of funding to help people like Davis. Although, the plan put forth tonight, though broad, is a first step.

"What we need to do is take a stance. It's time for us to say, 'This is a health department priority. This is a health department requirement,'" said Deardorff.

The board did discuss collaborating with Notre Dame to have an entire class dedicated to researching the lead problem in our area.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has said it's time to ask state and federal agencies for help.

There's another meeting for residents next month. It's Feb. 9 at the Near Northwest Neighborhood Community Center in South Bend.

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