Letters to the Editor

Published the week of April 19, 2000

Apr 19, 2000 at 4:00 am
The lead problem in St. Louis is a perfect example of a major public-health conundrum that primarily affects the poor, disempowered and politically ignorant segments of our city's population ("The Lead Menace," RFT, April 12). This problem would be well on its way to being solved if it affected children residing in the more affluent parts of western St. Louis County.

As a pediatrics resident at St. Louis Children's Hospital, I have the opportunity to spend a half-day a week at one of the Grace Hill neighborhood health centers, a facility that serves a population greatly burdened with the "lead menace" and a population whose inability to gain safe and comfortable housing is quite frustrating. I have personally witnessed the difficulty in mobilizing community resources for violations as blatant as rat infestation, not to mention lead. Luckily, the presence of strong extended family networks sometimes allows children in danger to live temporarily in a "lead safe" environment, but, as your article states, it does not always mean the child is no longer lead-exposed.

Children have the right to live not only in homes and neighborhoods that ensure their physical safety and emotional well-being but also in environments that at the very least don't threaten their neurobehavioral potential in the long term. Children are remarkably resilient in recovering from acute illnesses, but the long-term effects of lead poisoning are insidious in onset and irreparable. I agree that the responsibility for solving the lead problem falls on us all, but physicians are in a unique position to advocate for the children we serve, and I sometimes think we fall quite short of that role. Indeed, we are involved with children who are admitted to the hospital for lead-chelation therapy, but these children are the tip of the iceberg. I have a feeling that a larger chunk of that iceberg are the hundreds of children we see every year in our clinics with so-called behavior problems. But, sadly, public health is not emphasized in the major health institutions in this city, even though physicians could have a great impact on the lead problem if we decided to speak up and devote time and energy to advocacy.
Nadim Kanafani

Thank you for printing an article that is useful in helping to reduce childhood lead poisoning. It would be interesting to read a piece on the situation that middle-class and affluent families have with lead exposure. Members of the Kennedy family and even Millie the White House dog (pet of then-First Lady Barbara Bush) have gotten lead poisoning. Lead exposure knows no class boundaries.

The line "The problem continues to disproportionately affect poor children and minorities in central cities with older housing" is correct. For just about every environmental and health problem that exists, the poor are disproportionately affected because they generally have poorer nutrition, access to health care, access to adequate housing, etc. The situation for children in middle-class and affluent families with respect to lead is more complex than most media coverage suggests.

Lead exposure is the No. 1 environmental health threat to young children. Guidelines for St. Louis state that all children aged 6 and under should be screened for lead. Unfortunately, many middle-class and affluent young children are not tested even once. The "1998 Lead Surveillance Annual Report" (St. Louis Health Department) tracks by ZIP-code area the percentages of children screened for lead. ZIP codes 63109 and 63139, residential areas of the city, only had 5 and 7 percent, respectively, of the children tested. Since 95 and 93 percent of the children in these ZIP codes are not being screened, one cannot say that they are not being affected.

Most of the housing in these ZIP-code areas was built before 1950 and certainly contains lead paint on porches, doors and interior wood trim and in window wells.

Until parents and all pediatricians start recognizing that all young St. Louis-area children going to schools built before 1950 and/or living in pre-1950s housing are at risk, only mandatory universal lead screening of young children will identify these cases. How many middle-class children are being treated for "hyperactivity" and learning disabilities who wouldn't need to be if they lived in lead-safe housing and had been screened for lead? Screening, of course, is only an interim solution.

The real solution is to make all housing at least lead-safe and effectively lead-free.

With respect to the lawsuit against the lead-paint manufacturers, a settlement may be reached sooner than people think. A trust created by Eagle-Picher Industries Inc. has solicited scientists to determine ways to "fingerprint" paint chips to tie them to the paint's manufacturer. When scientists figure this out, the lead-paint manufacturers will probably come to the negotiating table rather quickly.

Carol A. Prombo, Ph.D.,
Lecturer in Science, University College
Washington University

When I read that Jill Posey-Smith would no longer be chopping up restaurants for the RFT, I almost did a cartwheel in my cannelloni. (Whoops! I'm starting to lapse into Jill's florid style of overwritten prose. Most unbecoming. Somebody stop me.)

Finally, no more of Ms. Posey-Smith's slicing and dicing of some of our most beloved St. Louis dining institutions, and at the top of that list I put Colorado. What she did to that wonderful restaurant was a travesty.

In her last column (such a pleasant thought), Jill Posey-Smith lists her reasons for putting down her pen, but she overlooks the prime one: She is an awful writer, loathed by your readers, who doesn't know her aspic from her elbow macaroni.

Hopefully, the hyphenated hack will never do her dirty work in St. Louis print again and you can use Joe Bonwich full-time. Now there's a restaurant critic.
Christopher Jackson

Having spent a large part of the summer of 1973 in Piedmont, Mo., assisting a UFO-investigation team from Southeast Missouri State University, I can assure you that the objects that we tracked, photographed and marveled at were not stars or planets ("Space Case," RFT, April 5). The objects, some visible in daylight, were not stationary and moved along similar paths each night for weeks. We set up a minimum of three observation points nightly to plot their course by triangulation. The objects, which can be described as orange illuminated balls approximately 8 to 10 feet in diameter, were observed at times that appeared to be almost scheduled in advance. The routes were approximately the same each time they were spotted.

The area of Piedmont where they were very active is where the air-traffic-control radar of Memphis, St. Louis and Kansas City fail to cover, which led to some speculation as to why the objects were active there.

A precise accounting of the summer of 1973 in Piedmont can be found in Project Identification by Dr. Harley Rutledge.
Steve Huffman

I was disappointed to see that the only nightclub DJs eligible for Slammies this year are those who play techno, house or hip-hop records. Enlightened clubgoers who have in the past enjoyed and voted for entertaining, imaginative and unpredictable crate-diggers such as JB, Doug Morgan and Mike the 2600 King (a relative newcomer, yes, but I'm sure he would have placed well, given the chance) don't even have a proper place to nominate them as write-in candidates this year, as their musical selections don't fit neatly into the two narrow categories your poll has provided. It's not like the RFT to slam a door in the faces of creative individuals who ignore the boundaries and break the molds!

Darren Snow
Crowd-Pleaser (Retired)

I appreciate your disclaimer regarding "words that exit the 'official' mouths of commercial radio hacks" and the rarity with which you agree with them, but I must take issue with the comments of Matt Costello you did decide to print ("Radar Station," RFT, April 5). Costello is the music director at a radio station that hasn't changed its core playlist in three years. (Finally getting around to spinning Beastie Boys records doesn't constitute "change," especially at a "modern rock" station.) For all the insight and ingenuity Costello seems to think he possesses about what local bands should and shouldn't do to be successful, why is it that KPNT currently represents all that is stale and sickening about St. Louis radio? I'm just glad that Costello's job title is included alongside his comments so that all who read them have an accurate barometer on precisely who these comments are coming from. Look no further than The Point's outdated, cookie-cutter, insultingly mundane playlist to evaluate the merit of what Costello thinks he knows about music of any kind.
Sebastian Ceralia