© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Experts say lead is still a major problem in St. Louis

By Adam Allington, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – The St. Louis Health Department has come under fire for the city's lead abatement program, which some health officials feel falls dangerously short of addressing the problem.

Dr. Nadim Kanafani is pediatrician at St. Louis Children's hospital.

"Every single day, numerous lead levels come back from the lab above the reference range," says Kanafani, "lead levels of 12, 20, 30 40 it was probably the most common asymptomatic disease that we screen for that I saw."

High levels of lead disrupt nerve formation and a host of other critical developmental systems.

According to the Center for Disease Control children who test above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood are at risk. Kanafani says St. Louis is in the middle of a "lead epidemic".

Lead Safe St. Louis is a task force aimed at mitigating lead poisoning in children. Critics of the program say that at its core the program is reactive rather than proactive.

The programs director, Dr. William Kincaid says epidemic or not, St. Louis is following the lead set by other cities with old housing stock.

"Most major cities that sprang up during the industrial revolution have lead poisoning problems similar to the one we have here," says Kincaid.

"The approach that is being taken there is the same one that we are we're taking here and that is to focus on those homes and try to make the hazard reductions occur before a child gets poisoned."

The St. Louis Health Department currently tests less than half of all children for lead poisoning. They also have a program to remove lead paint from homes if parents or landlords come forward with a request.

If a homeowner or renter contacts the Health Department the city will send a contractor to sand and scrape lead paint.

St. Louis receives about 8 million dollars annually for lead abatement.

Dr. Kincaid says that to thoroughly remove lead from all St. Louis homes the city would need to spend billions of dollars.


Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.