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!