A front page article in The Miami Herald entitled “Paradise Remade” caught my attention this morning. The reporter, Frances Robles, spent time in God’s Paradise, a low-income collection of settlements in a city called Haina in the Dominican Republic, where she gathered information on the children who had been poisoned by playing in the remnants of a battery recycling plant. The story eventually finishes in the positive: the site was cleaned up and a park built, a dramatic change brought about the cooperation between the local activist residents, environmentalists, the business sector, academia and the government. The process, however, took more than twenty years and left behind at least 55 damaged children. The catalyst was the intervention of the New York based Friends of Lead Free Children and the environmental group, Blacksmith Institute, which had added Haina to its list of top most polluted places on the planet.
In the Internet age of constant news and overwhelming information, it is apparent that the problems of heavy metal poisoning will not just spontaneously resolve themselves. As the ironically-named God’s Paradise makes clear, it takes action and work and cooperation on all levels, from the local to the international. It takes awareness, understanding of the issues, education and interest. In other words, it takes a lot of time.
But time is the enemy of small children, who can grow up with severe health problems if they are constantly exposed to toxic heavy metals over a long period of time. The affected children of God’s Paradise had “blank stares”, seizures and learning disabilities, among other issues. So what is a parent to do?
To start, inform yourself. Easier said than done, I found out this morning when I got 1,250,000 results for my query “children exposed to heavy metals”. WOW!! That’s enough to send anyone into shock and disbelief! However, as I surfed through 50 pages or more, I realized that you definitely need a system to navigate your way to some useful information:
First of all, search for government agencies such as the health department, state department of human services, or child welfare agencies for your specific area. You will be able to find practical and useful information, such as how to reduce your exposure to heavy metals in your area and in your home, health effects of these metals and how to get more information.
Secondly, depending on your interest and involvement, search for research articles, from reputable academic institutions and foundations, regarding specific health issues that may be affecting your child. However, be aware that there are many sites that use scare tactics to sell their product, such as testing services, water filter systems, chelation therapy, etc.
Finally, there are many serious research studies available online that might yield useful information, such as a recent publication in the NATO series “Environmental Security” entitled Environmental Heavy Metal Pollution and Effects on Child Mental Development (ISBN 978-94-007-0255-4).
Above all, realize that we are all exposed daily to various environmental hazards with no health consequences. Being educated and aware make all the difference!