Doctor warns community of link between factory, children's lead levels

Posted at 1:20 PM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-08 13:20:27-05

MUNCIE, IN (WRTV/CNN/RNN) - A pediatrician is warning his community about lead from a factory possibly making its way into their children’s systems.

Dr. Robert Byrn says he has noticed elevated lead levels in children whose parents work at the Exide factory in Muncie. Exide is a manufacturing company that specializes in vehicle batteries.

Byrn said he’s noticed a trend in some of his patients with parents who work there.

“Throughout my practice time I’ve noticed cases where kids have had elevated lead levels,” he said.

Byrn has worked as a pediatrician in Muncie since 2006.

“Over the last five to 10 years I’ve suspected, based on some kids I’ve seen in the office, that there could be a link with the parents’ occupation at the Exide facility.”

Byrn said he considered a number of factors in determining Exide might be the cause.

“When we find a child with elevated lead levels we take a history, we figure out when their house was built, what area of town they live in,” he said. “And I ask about the parents’ occupation.”

Byrn said he had seen “many” such cases.

Howard Smith, a former Exide employee, is critical of the facility’s decontamination practices, noting that doing bulk loads of laundry might not fully clear uniforms of lead dust.

“They take all your dirty clothes and put them in a hamper with everybody else’s,” Smith said.

He said he would shower three times a day at work and then change into clean clothes in another room.

“They could have done all of their clothing in smaller batches, instead of everybody’s together, and that would probably help cut down on some of the lead dust and everything else too," he said.

Smith said he was worried about his own children’s potential exposure.

An Exide spokesperson said the company is aware of two isolated incidents from the Delaware County Health Department report. The company’s website touts its environmental conscientiousness, saying, “Our commitment to recycling and environmental responsibility is unwavering.”

Exide claims to be one of the largest secondary recyclers in the world of lead-acid batteries.

Byrn noted anything less than rigorous control of lead release could be dangerous.

“The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics now say that there is no lead level that is safe in a child’s bloodstream,” he said. “Lead toxicity leads to increased rates of ADHD, lower IQ, academic problems, behavior problems.”

Byrn said he had seen children with 10-20 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, levels that he said “certainly cause concern” and far exceed the five micrograms per deciliter the CDC considers a baseline for levels, “much higher than most children’s levels.”

Smith, the former factory employee, said his personal levels ranged anywhere from 16-20. That’s part of the reason he’s glad to be a former employee.

“Six to eight months after leaving there, my body started recuperating and I feel so much better,” he said.

In 2015, Exide settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice and paid a fine of $820,000 for Clean Air Act violations at their facility in Indiana, according to an Environmental Protection Agency release.

The release stated the facility did not meet lead emissions standards and that it had released amounts in the area that exceeded federal air quality limits.

Copyright 2018 WRTV via CNN. Raycom News Network contributed to this report. All rights reserved.