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Tackling Toxins - The Community Health Projects Related to Contamination at Brownfield Sites

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When we think of major contributors to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, pollution is not always the first thing that comes to mind. While scientist are still debating the fine points, there is growing public awareness of environmental risks. Below are just a few types of toxins and the maladies they have been associated with:


  • Lead – The hazardous effects of lead have been in the news recently, largely because of the Flint tragedy. Lead based paint is the largest source of exposure for children. Other common sources of lead are water from lead pipes and fixtures, soil, household dust, pottery, older toys and cosmetics. Often, symptoms of lead poising do not appear until they have accumulated to elevated amounts. In children they include developmental delay, learning difficulties, fatigue, slowed growth and hearing loss. In adults, lead poisoning may contribute to high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, decline in metal functioning, mood disorders, risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
  • Dioxins – These are a group of toxic compounds that are chemically related to each other. Many are unintentional byproducts of activities such as paper production or the burning of industrial waste, fuels or even household trash. Other sources of dioxin can be found in pesticides like DDT which has been banned for years, but still persist in the soil. Exposure can come from food, water, soil, and even the air we breathe, especially if we are near waste incinerators. Some studies have found dioxins to be associated type 2 diabetes, heart disease, changes in male reproductive hormones, reduced immune function , and developmental problems in children. They are also carcinogenic.
  • Endocrine Disrupters – These are chemicals that interfere with our endocrine systems. Often they mimic hormones our bodies make naturally, like estrogens, androgens and thyroid hormones. Dixons can fall into this category, as can pharmaceuticals, substances in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants and cosmetics. Endocrine disrupters have been associated with lowered fertility rates, endometriosis and some cancers.


The Community Health Projects Related to Contamination at Brownfield/Land Reuse Sites

A brownfield is a former industrial site that has been contaminated to the point it needs major cleanup before it can become safe and viable for use again. There are many types of grants available for renovation of these areas. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry is providing funds specifically for communities to incorporate health into their brownfield redevelopment efforts. Supported projects should evaluate health risks from exposure to contamination at the sites and increase their capacity to address its impacts.

Selected Past Recipients

  • The Lummi surveyed seafood consumption among persons living on the Lummi Reservation and surrounding areas in Washington State for the purpose of upgrading water standards and clean up within Bellingham Bay.
  • Middleton Connecticut plans to turn some of it brownfields into playgrounds and other recreational opportunities for children while using the grant to raise awareness of the risk of environmental hazards.
  • Temple Texas is planning a botanical garden at Bend of the River park. The garden will be a catalyst for community engagement in public health, environmental justice and economic development.


Applying for the Community Health Projects Related to Contamination at Brownfield/Land Reuse Sites

Eligible applicants include state and local government, academic institutions, Native American tribes, and public housing authorities as entities of the state/local/tribal government. The deadline to apply is July 5, 2016, with the letter of intent due on June 3, 2016.


Action Steps

The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry makes a free toolkit available for everyone interested in improving the health and safety of their communities. Learn how to make environmental impact a topic of conversation.