Notre Dame professors need help with South Bend's lead problem

Published: Sep. 26, 2017 at 10:20 PM EDT
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Many living in South Bend, could have lead in their homes.

Some Notre Dame professors are working hard to make it a "lead-safe" city.

The key word is "lead-safe" not "lead-free". The majority of homes in south bend have some form of lead in them because they were built before the 1980's. That means a lot of house paint is what's causing our problem.

Back before 1979 the acceptable lead levels were far above where they are these days.

Now the county gets involved if a child tests positive for a 10 micro grams of lead per deciliter of blood.

"When I was a kid, 80 percent of the u-s population had blood lead levels above 16 micro grams per deciliter," Professor Marya Lieberman said. "And look at us. Look how well we turned out!"

Notre Dame looked at 6 homes and found that South Bend's water supply is clean, so most adults won't be ingesting any lead. But it is hiding on the floor and soil where paint dust containing lead lands which could affect kids.

"Kids then, very young children, are crawling on the floors in their homes and they're absorbing that lead dust," Assistant Professor Heidi Bedinger said. "The other thing too is that when they're outside and they're playing, they're being exposed to that lead in the soil. "

The researchers now hope to expand the study, which they don't think will be very hard.

"We found a way to collect these things very quickly and without much expertise," Professor Graham Peaslee said. "I basically put on a pair of gloves and scoop some soil."

They want to provide cheap kits so more people can send in samples, and more importantly, find kids who are facing dangerous blood lead levels to make their homes safer.

"Putting down mulch, putting in stepping stones so that we're not walking on the soil directly, putting in shrubbery," Bedinger said. "On the inside of the home, every week, you want to be cleaning all of the horizontal surfaces with a wet cloth. Simple simple things like that can take care of a significant amount of what's going on inside of the house."

Right now, these professors are trying to get the community to act to make the city a little bit safer by getting people to do some testing with one of the kits.

Professor Peaslee says any volunteers interested in helping with the study can email him at