Some Park Hill residents living near the contaminated former Black Leaf chemical site now have the opportunity for free health screenings, courtesy of a team of researchers at the University of Louisville.
At the California Community Center Thursday evening, approximately 20 residents attended a meeting held by the research team to detail the project. Dr. Matthew Cave of the U of L’s School of Medicine explained that the goal is to find out whether the toxins found in the soil have affected the health of residents, a fear many in the neighborhood have had since the EPA deemed the area a Superfund removal site in 2011.
Additionally, Cave would like to study whether the cleanup affects residents’ levels, though that phase of research is dependent on additional funding. The EPA will begin the process of removing the contaminated soil at more than 60 properties surrounding the Black Leaf site as early as Tuesday.
The initial funding, provided by Councilman David James’ office, will only cover arsenic and lead tests for 100 individuals. The remaining samples, intended for more expensive testing of pesticides and specialized toxic materials, will be frozen in hopes additional funding is secured. According to Cave, the arsenic and lead tests cost $50 per sample, while the additional testing is $300 each.
Residents at the meeting quickly expressed upset over the exclusion of children from the study. Only legal adults are eligible for the free screening, a decision Cave said was due to the research study approval process, which takes longer and is far more scrutinizing when it involves children. Lark Reynolds, a research coordinator at U of L, added that they hope to amend the project to include children. In the meantime, the Louisville Metro Health Department, which has operated a lead poisoning prevention program for more than three decades, is working on offering free lead screenings for children in the affected area. Lead exposure has long been linked to developmental and physical issues in children.
“My first concern is the children,” Ricky Hite told the LEO. Hite grew up a few blocks away from the Black Leaf site and now lives even closer to it with three young children. Like everyone else, he hopes the arsenic and lead levels come back normal, but if they don’t…
“When we (citizens) make a mistake, we have to pay for it,” he says. “Someone needs to answer to all this.”
Tom Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy organization, told the crowd legal remedies exist. KRC does not handle personal injury cases, but if results show higher than normal levels, Fitzgerald will be organizing a meeting to connect the community with the appropriate lawyers who might work pro bono or at reduced cost. Though called Black Leaf for an insecticide once produced there, the industrial site has had several owners, some of which are still in business.
That is, of course, getting ahead of things.
“First we need to figure out if there is an issue,” says Reynolds. “Then, we’ll go from there.”
The researchers will be collecting samples from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday at the Heath Care Outpatient Center, located at 401 E. Chestnut St. Priority will be given for residents currently living within four blocks of the site, though former residents, regular visitors and others who feel they may need testing are encouraged to contact the research team for consideration on a case-by-case basis. Shuttles to and from the clinic will be provided for individuals who express need for it. For more information, contact Lark Reynolds at (502) 852-8928.