Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lead Story

Ah, the world. I wish I had a frivolous sweater/cat/chicken post today, but I warn everyone now that this won't be a terribly cheery post, either. Someday soon! My camera battery charger is currently lost, so this week's tally of random cat pictures is extremely low. Sorry.

A while back, when we first realized we'd be building a chicken coop, FW and I decided to stop in at a new building materials reuse center to scope out materials. The place is a great joint venture between a few entities, providing deconstruction jobs for women, offering job training and keeping materials out the landfill. A very good thing. The warehouse is filled with old toilets, windows, sinks and doors. Two-by-fours with the nails painstakingly pulled out... that sort of thing.

We perused the historic doors, and chose a clean, white painted solid old specimen with a nice, ornate doorknob. It felt really good to have the first concrete piece of the new coop we'd soon build. It even had a working latch and door jamb. I was excited.

We stored it in the garage for a while, and when we finally got around to working with a carpenter acquaintance, he designed one end of the coop around that door. The latch has held, and the door had been keeping out predators and keeping chickens in for a few months now. All seemed well.

Except. (Why does there ALWAYS seem to be a catch when it comes to the poultry venture these days?) The door was painted with interior paint. We didn't really think anything of this. After just a couple weeks outside, it started peeling and chipping off. I vaguely wondered about lead paint, but didn't know what to do (oh, innocence and ignorance). We got busy and generally fretted about other things (bare-backed hens, wet stinky litter, etc). But the other day, I finally decided to buy a lead test kit. I hoped to maybe find out it WASN'T lead, that we could rest easy.

It is definitely lead. Sheee-it. While I’m glad it’s not actually IN our house (some people have nightmares of toxic home renovations) this chips were likely falling onto the ground around the outside of the coop. I’ve been picking up chips when I find them, but it’s not crazy to think that the chickens may have eaten some. They seem fine, but…????

What frustrates me so much is that we did this to ourselves! We thought we were being virtuous in recycling old materials, and now we've brought in a toxin where there wasn’t one before. This REALLY bothers me, and I really wish I’d been more aware of this issue. FW thinks I’m a bit over the top, worrying about possible health effects (for egg consumers, mostly, not so much the chickens themselves).

What really spurred me to action (and worrying, I’ll admit) is an amazing book: Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber. I believe she’s fairly well known to some people in the environmental community, but I only woke up to her work after reading her recent article in Orion magazine about mercury and her 6 yr old daughter. She emphasizes that the first environment we all experience is the one inside the womb, and that this environment (and subsequent development of the baby) is highly impacted by outside toxins like lead and mercury. It’s a primal and very basic truth, one that I doubt many lawmakers and corporate executives EVER consider when they ignore or ease emissions standards, etc.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have my own children, but we’re still considering the idea. Whether we reproduce or not, other people will. While some cynics will say there are too many people out there anyway, my wish is for all future children who ARE born to be as healthy and intelligent as possible. And things like lead and mercury interfere with that equation. It’s terribly maddening, especially when you learn that some people have been aware of the risks of lead in paint, etc for decades- likely since the 1920’s. And don’t get me started about mercury in fish. So WHY are FW and I still dealing with lead’s dangers in 2006?? It comes down to money, greed, and paint companies ignoring science. And the nightmare of lead paint is far from over- it’s lurking under the paint in so many buildings to this day. It’s not just a 1970’s issue, as some people think.

What other “surprises” are out there, waiting for us to wake up and believe the science? I’m not sure I want to know. We’re plenty busy right now, dealing with this hazard in the midst of our organic chicken flock. We’re doing our best with FW's careful scraping, masks, etc, but it’s a daunting task. I HATE it, and I’m scared… for us and the overall future of the world.

So. I warned you, not a cheery post. Expect a few more like this as I sort through my thoughts on this toxin thing. But maybe next time I can regale you with slapstick tales of lead abatement shenanigans- wheeheee!


Mary said...

Well, I found your story interesting. I live in an old house, so I can understand being concerned about toxic materials in renovating, etc.

I sometimes wonder why the same people who fight so vehemently against abortion aren't equally vehement about the levels of toxins in the environment. Ideally, every child born would be protected from toxins.

It reminds me about a story on the news proclaiming how happy parents were that smoking had been banned in McDonald's restaurants. Because, they take their kids there and now the kids won't have to breath second hand smoke. Of, course - they're eating at McDonalds!

Anyway! I hope those chickens are lead free! I wonder if there is a way to test for lead in their systems? Some kind of test of the eggs perhaps?

Anonymous said...

It's terrifying once you look into it. And you're absolutely right, most people are completely unaware. We've known about the problems with lead because we used to live in apartments and landlords now have to disclose whether there is lead in the apt and aren't supposed to rent to people with children if there is lead.

We once rented a newly renovated apartment (this was before children). I had been reading "Garbage" magazine regularly so I was up on the wretched state of our environment. I bought a lead test kit and found that lead was present in the DUST of our old built-in china cabinet. I wasn't surprised, but how many people out there realize that even in "renovated" places lead can still exist? Then we find out this landlord hadn't actually de-leaded the place because that would've been horribly expensive.

The toxins are everywhere. For example, I definitely think there's a connection between thimerosal in vaccinations and the rise of autism in children. And I just read recently that DuPont is phasing out Teflon because of its toxicity. These are two small examples of how we are impacted every day (perhaps for generations) by careless use of chemicals.


Liz said...

I just read that 1 of 6 women have mercury levels high enough to cause developmental damage to their unborn children.

When will we start realizing that there's no such thing as a benign chemical? That our environment is becoming so polluted and we humans are going to suffer long-term effects because of it?

Hope the chickens didn't injest too much, for the sake of the eggs. It's a shame you need to be worried about that at all.

gtr said...

Ug, yes. How do you KEEP from being terrified all the time, Kerstin, especially with kids? My husband is used to my worry-wart ways, and thinks I'm crying wolf a bit on this one. It's really frustrating.

I do have a science background, and am more familiar with other emerging toxins than I'd like to be, sometimes. But even with that, I got myself into this stupid lead situation. Sigh.

My current thoughts: (maybe another post later)

Throw away any old Teflon pans you still have (especially if they are peeling), minimize your plastic use, eat very little fish, and now, of course, be aware of dust and paint chips in older (pre 1978) houses. It’s not crazy, it’s just good precaution for women. Men maybe don’t have to worry as much, nor women who don’t plan to be pregnant.

But this is FUTURE generations we’re talking about, here, people. Even if you aren’t going to give birth yourself, you’re going to live next to future people affected by these toxins in utero.

Article about teflon:,0,3411411.story

Chicago Tribune has been doing a great serious about tuna and mercury, lately, too...