Lead contamination in Omaha still poses health threat

Published: Jun. 20, 2017 at 9:29 PM CDT
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An Omaha organization is trying to use a new way to draw attention to an old problem in Omaha.

Watie White is a local artist craving out drawings on wood to create an image through a process called wood cut or relief printing.

"It’s basically the oldest form of replicating an image that we have. It’s about 1,000 years old,” White said.

White is hoping his art work calls attention to an old problem: people in North Omaha have been dealing with lead contamination. The pictures White creates are being displayed in the Omaha Star in an attempt to call attention to the issue that, for White, is personal.

"My own son had lead poising when we lived in D.C. until he was about a year and a half. Then we moved back to Chicago and all his lead levels returned to normal. It was actually something in the water in D.C.” he said.

The pictures White creates are part of a project called lead stories. The pictures and stories will run in the Star every month through December. White, the Omaha Star and Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance are working to put a human face on the effects of lead in north Omaha. Lead contamination is still a major problem in the community, according to Kara Eastman, president and CEO of OMAHA Healthy Kids Alliance.

“Lead is still the number one environmental hazard to children and Omaha is still the largest residential superfund in the nation. Because of lead poising, we still have an issue here. We still have way too many kids who have high levels of lead in their blood that are impacting them causing IQ deficits , behavioral problems and even criminal behavior later on in life,” she said.

Eastman says Omaha has taken a lot of steps to lead contamination in the community soil has been tested and replaced. Eastman says people in Omaha need to invest homes and make sure the paint inside and out is lead free.

Watie White is hoping his art work on this project tells people that lead contamination is still an issue here.

"It tells you that it’s important. It tells you it’s something we should be thinking about. We should be paying attention to,” he said.

Officials say if your home was built before 1978, there’s a good chance there is lead in the paint.

Lead Stories was funded by Omaha Healthy Kids through funds from the EPA to conduct outreach and education on lead poisoning prevention.