Lecturer wants children in East PoS tested for lead poisoning

By Shereen Ali Sunday,
April 7 2013 – newsday.co.tt

LaventilleA part-time lecturer in the Department of Behavioural Sciences at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine is calling for the authorities to test children living in East Port-of-Spain for lead poisoning.

Lecturer Valentine Smith’s call is based on his contention that there may be environmental and biological factors among the causes for violence and youth delinquency in this area.

Smith notes that East Port-of-Spain has a large young population — almost half were below the age of 30 according to a CSO 2000 report — and says that if children in the early 1990s were cumulatively poisoned by lead, it could be a contributing factor to their present condition and behaviour.

Smith, a former Registered Nurse, a former Public Health Inspector who retired in 2008, and a current part-time lecturer with an MSc and MPhil in the Sociology of Health, points out that “lead levels continue to be positive in the water courses in Trinidad” and decades of exposure of East Port-of-Spain residents to lead in toxic traffic fumes as well as lead in airborne pollutants blown on them from burnings at the Beetham Dump.

Smith points to contributing factors to the possibility of lead poisoning among East Port of Spain residents as being a drastic increase in cars on the roads into Port-of-Spain and the associated traffic jams. He said the Beetham dump has been a threat to the area’s surface and ground water, to the wetlands on which it sits and to the health of surrounding communities for more than 30 years, with regular burnings of largely unrecycled rubbish, despite formal statements that hazardous waste should not be dumped there.

Trinidad has no comprehensive national recycling system in place, he added.

“For decades this (pollution in the area) has been going on,” said Smith, “… and it may have been affecting our youth.

“Can it help explain how angry we have become as a people? Could it be a factor in why they are killing each other? No matter what the government of the day is, many of the young people here are behaving in a similar way. Why? We need to encourage scientific evaluation of the possibilities,” he said.

Smith referred to several studies in arriving at his thesis, including one by Banks, Ferretti and Shucar (1997) called “Effects of low-level lead exposure on cognitive function in children – a review of behavioural, neuropsychological and biological evidence.” This study, published in the journal “Neurotoxicology,” Vol 18, said lead promotes brain dysfunction, and also alters neurotransmitter and hormonal systems; it may induce aggressive and violent behaviour.

Trinidad does have a history of lead poisoning. Ivan Chang Yen, a UWI Chemistry lecturer, in 2001, did a study on used lead acid batteries. He found evidence of major pollution in several areas of Trinidad due to the repair and recycling of lead acid batteries. He found, in 2001, that “of the 160,000-170,000 batteries discarded in Trinidad and Tobago, most are collected by the informal sector, and returned to a single recycling company in east Trinidad for export to Venezuela.” The batteries are collected by scavengers at the landfill sites, that is Beetham. Chang Yen recommended back then that an inexpensive test kit for lead sould be made available, especially in areas with young children.

Source: http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,175898.html

4 Responses to “Lecturer wants children in East PoS tested for lead poisoning”


  • I think that the implications of what Valentine Smith’s study suggests, need to be carefully assessed. One should be cautious about how a study is interpreted that attempts to make linkages between violence and delinquency and lead poisoning because in this society many people (beyond East-West PoS) exhibit neuropsychological and biological dysfunctions of one kind or the other.

    I agree that we should be studying the levels of lead and other contaminants in East Port of Spain especially because of the Beetham dump site, but we should also study the levels of contaminants in the country at large.

    The article “History of Lead Contamination in Trinidad & Tobago” by Sharda Maharaj-Surujdeo http://v1.tntriver.com/2012/07/10/history-of-lead-contamination-in-trinidad-tobago/ – gives a decent summary on lead in Trinidad and Tobago’s environment.

    • The IMA also has data of trace metals from sea water, sediment and aquatic specimens under a database called ‘Data Acquisition Program’ established in 1989. That was specific to the Gulf of Paria. CARIRI did all the analyses at that time, prior to IMA setting up it’s own labs. Simultaneous to that there was analyses done for the Caroni Arena Dam on waterways entering the Caroni river. There was an interesting feature whereby the Manacal river dissapeared underground and then re appeared prior to the re-entry into the Caroni river. That was possible by looking at the trace metal of Chromium which was due to an illegal discharge from a photographic company in the East at the time. I agree with Akilah that emphasis on analyses should be placed all over the country with respective enforcement that adherence be kept within acceptable standards. Some people have been known to suffer from respiratory problems with down wind movements carrying paticulates emanating from aggregate plants. The lead poisoning aspect
      surely have resulted in loss of lives but has there been any public outcry when little information has been disseminated? The EMA needs to get busy on this aspect.

  • Splendid article ,by a conscious advocate ,and the type of relevant research ,that we members of the ‘Global South,’desperately needs , as it strikes directly at the heart of social issues ,that can impact all of our lives- irrespective of race , color , creed, class , age , gender,tribe, or place of origin.
    Let me say for the record , that leadership matters, particularly when it comes to government , for they are entrusted with responsibility to shape the direction a nation goes ,in it’s quest to develop sustainably.
    When governments are asleep at the wheel on a subject as environmental degradation, and worst yet ecocide, then there is price to pay down the road.
    When international corporate thugs , are allowed to come into countries , and prey/ plunder , and destroy , en route to garnering tax free riches , then someone is left holding the bag, be they indegenious folks in Ecuador oil plains,Bhopal India,or Delta region Nigeria.
    Often ,it’s the underclass, without obvious means. It’s our future generations, stuck most times, with costly debilitating illnesses.
    Ever so often , there is a pushback, like in Somalia.

    http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/3-toxic-waste-behind-somali-pirates/

    The fact is ,People do what they got to do , if they ain’t have an Al Gore , Ken Sara wiwa ,or DR Wayne Kablasingh ,to fight for them.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2008/10/2008109174223218644.html

    Once more ,a fine piece by UWI Lecturer Smith.Not too certain if it would amount to much , since if history is any indicator , the conclusions, that will most likely ensue , by dem neo elitist, imperialists -that presently rule the political roost-will obviously be first,it ain’t our problem,since we inherited this ghashly mess, secondly , there is nothing we can do to address said concerns,as money is now a problem,or third, and worst yet , we ain’t going to be directly affected , in the short, or long term, so why worry?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/08/nigeria-usa

    Stay vigilant people!
    Well, … In addition ,a. little optimism won’t hurts either. If anything we’ve learned from nature ,is that water, or sand blasting a solid rock , will eventually produce some erosional results , ennnt?
    Luv humanity!

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