Students taught lead testing after Federal Budget cuts

    DURING A PRESS conference on Oct. 10 at the Joseph L. Block Middle School in East Chicago, Jacqueline Patterson, the National NAACP Director of Environmental and Climate Justice Program, announces the “Our Community Scientists” initiative. The initiative empowers community members with the capability to test air quality, soil and water for lead contamination.

    By Patrick Forrest, Gary Crusader

    The NAACP East Chicago led a group of students in East Chicago through the processes of testing water, air and soil for lead. The limited number of selected students were given self-test kits and led through the process by volunteers from Indiana State University, NAACP and science teacher Mitchell Cole.

    “It was nice to see the students grasping this concept and how it affects them in their day-to-day lives,” Cole said. “We couldn’t get everyone, but the students we had here definitely had an experience I hope they take with them and use to help others.”

    THESE JOSEPH L. BLOCK Middle School students are receiving media training in a workshop sponsored by the NAACP Indiana as part of the Our Community Scientists initiative. The scholars will learn how to correctly present their community’s truth to the media.

    Last year, East Chicago, Indiana garnered national attention when West Calumet housing complex was ordered evacuated due to toxic levels of lead.

    In partnership with Indiana State University, students were shown how to measure air and water quality to determine if they are safe to breathe and drink, respectively.

    “It’s cool to know that as students we can do things to make changes to our environment,” said Naomi Caseras, an 8th grader at East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy. “It does not always have to be adults, we can find little things that make big changes.”

    When the students came together, they were able to complete tests of personally gathered samples for lead contaminants. The lessons would make it easier to call attention to issues they may come across in the future.

    IN RESPONSE TO the inaction at every level of government, the NAACP sponsored a program to teach the residents how to test the lead levels in the air, soil and water. The lead testing training was conducted at two schools in East Chicago the week of Oct. 9 — East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy and Joseph L. Block Middle School In the photograph above scientists are demonstrating how to take a soil sample.

    “Throughout the weekend, we gathered samples of air, water and soil,” Caseras said. “I only got to test my air sample and it was lead-free. I don’t think anyone had any for the air.”

    In a statement, the NAACP stated, “The Trump administration defunded EPA programs that test air and water quality in places like East Chicago. The agency also recently moved the Office of Environmental Justice internally to be closer and under the control of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt; a move advocates say is an attempt to politicize” the office’s work.

    “In these times where polluted communities are being abandoned by a government that is institutionalized stewardship of corporate interest over public health,” Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “This community science project is a critical stop-gap measure.”

    The community effort continues on Oct. 13 at Friendship Baptist Church, 4911 McCook Ave., where a community discussion will be held on the displacement and how political ignorance has shaped their predicament. Also, on Oct. 14 community members will be taught how to test air, water and soil for lead at First Baptist Church.

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