As Canada’s parched province of Ontario reported yet another day of rising temperatures, public health officials and flood cleanup crews closely monitored levels of lead in rivers, forests and waterways.
Local officials have noted an apparent rise in the number of poisoned children after the province’s massive flood cleanup efforts. With the mercury skyrocketing again, emergency workers and public health officials have been on high alert.
“Yesterday was quite a wet and thundery day, which we don’t see very often, and we did see the air being monitored for lead content on a regular basis,” said Tom Lee, spokesman for the Ontario government’s public health department.
Mr. Lee said children may be most vulnerable. “The concern is that if children are exposed to lead during that time of the year or during that period in their childhood, it might stick with them through adolescence and adulthood,” he said.
In what appears to be a quiet trend, Ontario health officials said they now fear the number of children showing levels in excess of the government’s “probable exposure limits” could be doubling or tripling.
On Wednesday, health officials released public guidance that warned parents to “be alert for the presence of lead in children’s water or soil and take reasonable steps to remove lead from homes or foster care homes.”
Mr. Lee urged parents of children with elevated levels to wash the child’s hands frequently to reduce the exposure and to “take action and make sure the child doesn’t have any exposure to lead from the groundwater or soil during the coming days.”
At a Thursday health conference in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, health officials cited research linking lead exposure to higher risk of antisocial and violent behavior. “Our understanding of the human health consequences of lead exposure has grown in recent years. These include increased risk of neurological disorders and cancer as well as academic and behavioral difficulties,” John Vertas, the deputy minister of health, said in a release issued by Ontario’s ministry of health.
Officials urged homeowners or caregivers of children to regularly test the water and soil where children are most at risk.
In recent days, the province has been overwhelmed by the amount of work it has been forced to perform after the massive flooding across the province.
The flooding has left extensive damage to roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure that have required the immediate cleanup and repair, along with the building of temporary shelters for families who were forced from their homes. On Wednesday, the Ontario government promised the province’s support to repair damage as many as 30,000 structures across southern Ontario.