Lawmakers, NAACP Urge Investigation of Lead Poisoning Study
The head of the Maryland chapter of the NAACP has requested that the state's attorney general look into a study that sought to determine whether adding a compost made with treated sewage waste to soil could protect children from lead poisoning, the AP/Baltimore Examiner reports. Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, asked Attorney General Douglas Gansler to investigate whether the participants gave informed consent, if their civil rights were violated and what role Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute -- which led the study -- played in the research (AP/Baltimore Examiner, 4/14). Stansbury made the request in response to an Associated Press article about the Baltimore study and a similar study conducted on a vacant lot near a predominately black school in East St. Louis, Ill., the Baltimore Sun reports. The Baltimore study, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was conducted in 2000 and involved nine low-income families living in East Baltimore row houses. (Heilprin/Vineys, Associated Press, 4/14). Officials said the households were chosen because of the high concentration of lead found in the area (Baltimore Sun, 4/15). The families consented to having the compost tilled into their yards, which were then planted with new grass (Associated Press, 4/14). The families received food coupons in exchange for their participation (AP/Baltimore Examiner, 4/14). The study concluded that iron and phosphate in the compost increase the soil's ability to trap lead and other harmful metals, allowing the material to safely pass through a child's digestive system if ingested (Associated Press, 4/14). The Maryland Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency have approved the use of compost made from sewage waste for three decades, and the compost is used in residential and other gardens throughout the U.S., the Sun reports (Desmon, Baltimore Sun, 4/15). Researchers told the families that lead in the untreated soil could be hazardous to children and assured them that the compost was safe, Rufus Chaney, co-author of the study and Department of Agriculture research agronomist, said. He added, "They were told that it was composted biosolids that are available for sale commercially in the state of Maryland. I don't think there's any further disclosure required." Chaney explained that the composting process kills pathogens from the sewage sludge (Associated Press, 4/14). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this summer will hold hearings on the government funding of studies that use composted sewage waste as a fertilizer, Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said (AP/Baltimore Examiner, 4/14). An abstract of the Baltimore study is available online.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.