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Nov 18, 2013 10:15 AM by Joanna Wise

Pueblo mother believes child poisoned by Colorado Smelter site

PUEBLO, CO- It's a health alert we told you about more than a year ago. Now, a Pueblo woman who lives near the Colorado Smelter site thinks her child is being poisoned by toxic materials.

A few months ago, she took her family to get tested, and the results are back.

"She loved her garden, and that was her thing to do. You think you're teaching her agriculture and instead you're poisoning a poor innocent 4-year-old," said this Pueblo mother, who prefers to remain anonymous. "I can't even imagine them having lead and arsenic in their system."

While she prefers not to be the face for this story, she does want to be the voice for anyone who has concerns. She says something must be done.

She and her family live near the Colorado Smelter site. Through News 5, she learned the soil here is contaminated, but she never thought it would affect her family.

"I had no clue that it was actually that close in our neighborhood," she told News 5.

Earlier this year, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry started an exposure investigation. Agents went door to door, asking anyone who lives in the Bessemer and Eilers neighborhoods to get tested for lead.

News 5 was on scene back in September, as people filed into the ATSDR's temporary headquarters. The mother we spoke with says she was nervous. Then, the results came back.

"Shocked. Scared," she said, reacting to the results.

One in particular stuck out. Her 4-year-old daughter, the little girl who loves to play outside and dig holes in the garden, tested at 4.89. That's just points away from what's considered the 'dangerous level'.

"All this time, I'm bragging about how my kids love to go ride their bikes and love to go play in the backyard," she said. "You know, thinking how cute it was that they were digging holes and, you know, doing stuff like that, only to find out that it contaminated them."

The health agents told this mother it could be the house, because it's nearly a century old, but she doesn't think that's right.

As a stay at home mom, she's in the house more than anyone else.

"You would think I would be the highest and my daughter and my son would be the lowest, because they spend the least amount of time in the home, and that's just not the case," she said.

"From around nine months of age, to around three or four, is where we see the most pronounced effects in children," Charlie Partridge, a regional toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency, said.

Partridge says the lead will eventually flush out of the child's system, but the neurological effects are permanent.

"Based on many, many decades of studies of lead that it affects IQ levels," Partridge said. "Some studies have said for each one microgram per decimeter increase in blood, you drop an IQ point."

When it comes to adults, measuring the impact of exposure is a bit trickier.

"The effects of exposure to adults usually are more overt and physical in appearance," Partridge said.

High blood pressure, increased cardiovascular risks, kidney damage.

"One of the problems is, especially in your poor neighborhoods, there's already a predominance of cardiovascular disease," Partridge said. "So how do you tweak out, is your cardiovascular disease due to an increase exposure of lead, or is it due to socioeconomic status to dietary reasons?"

That uncertainty is the reason why city leaders put the brakes on the EPA's plan to declare the area a superfund site.

"We know that there's risk in this soil in this neighborhood," Partridge said. "If we remove that, then we're increasing the general health and well being of this neighborhood."

The anonymous mother we spoke with agrees with the EPA. She wants action from city council.

"What's one question that you want answered?" News 5's Joanna Wise asked of her.

"How would they feel if they knew their children were exposed to it?" that mother replied.

We took that question straight to Pueblo City Councilmember Sandy Daff. She represents the affected area.

"I believe that Eilers today is a neighborhood that is safe," Daff said. "I believe that Eilers is a fabulous community, and we just need another month to take a look at the data that's provided to us."

"Do you own property in that neighborhood?" News 5's Joanna Wise asked of Daff.

"I do not," Daff replied.

"Do any other councilmembers own property in that neighborhood?" Wise asked.

"To the best of my knowledge, no," said Daff.

Daff says she was elected to make responsible decisions in the community's best interest. On this issue, she says there just isn't enough research for her to do that.

"There are people who have lived long, healthy lives in a neighborhood that the EPA is considering dangerous," Daff said.

As for the mother News 5 spoke with, she's left asking herself if her daughter will get to do the same.

"This is not political. This is about my kids," she said. "These are real people with real lives."

In a statement to News 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's still evaluating results of tests on people exposed to the site. No word on when the agency will release its final report.

For the latest information on the EPA's findings, click here

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