The Wampanoag Natural Resources Department in addition to working on behalf of tribal members in the areas of water quality, fish and wildlife, and plant and woodland resources has, for a number of years, administered programs for the purpose of protecting tribal members and their families from the dangers of lead poisoning and more recently from radon gas exposure.
The dangers from lead enter the environment through human activities. Lead in paint, water pipes, solder, and gasoline poisoned our homes, schools, businesses, soils, water and air for many years. It is estimated that about 15% of all American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood in the 1970’s. This represented approximately 13.5 million children at the time. An elevated blood level is defined by the EPA as more then 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.
The use of lead in paint and gasoline were banned during the 1970s and 80’s and very significant reductions in the number of children with elevated blood levels have occurred. A study conducted between 1999 and 2000 showed that about 2.2% of children in the US (about 430,000) had elevated levels of lead in their blood. While this reduction is great news, it is tempered by the fact that some recent studies indicate significant damage is done to children even at levels below the accepted standard.
Young children are at the greatest risk from lead poisoning. A study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that brain and nervous system damage from lead in the blood of children at the level of 10 micrograms per deciliter was shown to cause a drop of almost 7.5 points in IQ tests.
Today, the most common source of lead in children's environment is from dust created from lead paint. This dust can be created from the friction of moving windows and doors, sanding of painted surfaces, from the renovation activities in the home, or from parents bringing lead dust in from construction sites. Homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned, are very likely to have lead-based paint. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that "approximately 24 million housing units in the United States have deteriorated lead paint and elevated levels of lead contaminated house dust."
Other sources of lead include contaminated soils and water, car batteries, and from products used in hobbies, such as, fishing and hunting.
The Natural Resource Department is concentrating on the following tasks related to the elimination of lead poisoning among tribal children:
Disseminating information to tribal families directly (and indirectly through those providing construction materials and services, and those caring for children at school and day care) about the effects of lead poisoning, its sources, and methods of reducing lead exposure, as well as, information about grant and loan funding programs that are available to help families remove or encapsulate sources of lead.
Building the capacity and obtaining the necessary certifications within the Natural Resources Department and the Wampanoag Environmental Laboratory to sample, test, and identifying lead and to guide the mitigation of its dangers within tribal lands and on behalf of tribal members; and to provide a liaison to such services for tribal members outside the jurisdiction of the Department.
Encouraging activities, such as, using alternatives to lead fishing gear, collection of lead shot from target shooting, and the recycling of automobile batteries, which will reduce significantly the poisoning of the environment from lead.
Radon, unlike lead, is a naturally occurring gas caused by uranium decay in our soils and rock. Radon in the out-of-doors is not a threat because it is dissipated through the air. Radon can; however, cause a danger when it enters into homes through cracks in the foundation and settles within the basement and lower floors. Modern methods of insulation and weatherization, which restrict airflow, can increase the dangers from radon gas.
Radon is considered the second largest cause of lung cancer in the country. The National Academy of Sciences has estimated that between 15,000 and 22,000 deaths annually can be attributed to radon. Smokers are 10 times more likely to contract lung cancer if they are living in homes with high levels of radon gas. Some experts estimate that about 15% of houses on Cape Cod and the Islands have elevated levels of radon, with other areas in the region having as high as 25% of the houses with elevated levels.
The Natural Resources Department intends to train staff in radon sampling methodologies, with the goal of offering free testing for all tribal households who request it. Staff will also be trained in methods of eliminating radon gas from homes. This usually consists of a venting system similar to that for household plumbing and is usually accomplished for less than a few thousand dollars. Sources for financial help will also be sought.
Tribal families with concerns about lead poisoning or radon gas should contact the Natural Resources Department at 508 645-9265 ext. 134.