Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Public Health assistant professor Dr. Adrienne Katner was presented with the “Environmental Justice Award” at the 10-Year Commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, an August 1 event that recognized community members with “Katrina Heroes Awards.” Sponsored by A Community Voice, the New Orleans non-profit organization presented awards to “those who have made a difference, who have fought for equity in rebuilding and for a return of schools and services to low to moderate income neighborhoods.” Dr. Katner was recognized for her work with community groups to combat childhood lead poisoning in New Orleans.
[Photo: Dr. Adrienne Katner]
Dr. Katner’s investigation into the issue of drinking water as an underestimated source of lead exposure brought her into contact with several community groups These included: the Southern United Neighborhoods Association, which works to address healthy housing needs of low-income neighborhoods; A Community Voice, which fights for social and economic justice for low to moderate income families; and Lead Safe Louisiana, which conducts free childhood blood lead testing and educational campaigns in low-income neighborhoods.
In partnership with the Louisiana Office of Public Health’s Healthy Homes and Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, this community-research workgroup conducted a critical evaluation of the inadequacies of federal monitoring and intervention guidelines which may impede effective primary prevention of childhood lead poisoning.
This workgroup came under the mentorship of two world-renowned leaders in the field of lead poisoning: Drs. Howard Mielke and Marc Edwards.
Dr. Howard Mielke of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, also received an “Environmental Justice” award from area non-profits for his work to bring attention to the lingering issue of lead contamination in the soil of schools, play grounds and daycare centers. Dr. Mielke’s work also instigated the rapid phase-out of leaded gasoline in the U.S.; and influenced much of the world’s current lead rules.
Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, conducted nationally-recognized work on the association between childhood lead poisoning and fetal death rates with elevated water lead levels in Washington DC. This work motivated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-evaluate water sampling and analysis guidelines in its Lead and Copper Rule, and pushed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to call for renewed attention to the issue of lead exposures from water.
To date, preliminary results of the workgroup’s research indicate that lead can be found in the tap water at some locations of the city at levels that exceed current health-based standards. Their research has also revealed that current EPA-approved methods used by water utilities to identify lead in tap water may be underestimating water lead levels.
In addition, standard exposure prevention guidelines promoted by some water utilities, which recommend flushing of water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes prior to use, may actually be exposing individuals to higher levels of lead.
The workgroup is currently working on several manuscripts, and plans to apply in the near future for more grants to evaluate the impact of regulatory, education and environmental interventions on addressing this public health problem.