Opinion: Charles Co. Urged to Take Action to Avoid a Potential Lead Poisoning Crisis
By Carlos Childs
The writer is a candidate for Charles County District 3 commissioner, the Charles County chairman of Our Revolution Southern Maryland and a progressive activist. He can be reached at @CarlosChildsMD.
Lead is a horrible chemical to have in your body. It is linked to multiple long-term health effects, especially in young children.
This is why Southern Maryland activist groups including Our Revolution Southern Maryland, Southern Marylanders for Racial Equality, Southern Maryland Fair Skies Coalition and the Charles County Medical Society have come together to sound the alarm about a potential lead poisoning crisis with two Charles County public schools, J.C. Parks Elementary and Matthew Henson Middle schools, from leaded plane fuel exhaust from the Maryland Airport.
These groups have also created a letter campaign, which has 102 letters sent, to call on the Charles County commissioners and the county health officer to take action.
The Maryland Airport is a privately owned airport in the Bryans Road area, spanning more than 370 acres. Many of the people who land and depart at the airport are wealthy and use the airport to avoid the hassle of using larger airports, such as Reagan National.
The people using the airport spend their time and money not in Charles County at our local businesses, but instead at National Harbor and MGM Casino in Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County, and only return to the county to leave. The airport has also been reportedly working to expand, which would allow them to open a flight school. This would not only increase air traffic but allow for more lead particles to be dropped on surrounding schools and neighborhoods.
A majority of the planes that land and depart at the airport are piston-engine planes. These types of planes use a specific type of fuel that contains lead. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that piston-engine planes are the largest source of lead particles in the air.
The Mayo Clinic has stated that there is no safe blood level of lead. This is due to the health effects of lead, which are horrific for anyone who is poisoned by this deadly chemical. Short-term health effects that adults face from overexposure to lead is abdominal pain, irritability, memory loss, etc. However, youth face a much greater health risk. Lead exposure in young children has been linked to cognitive, behavioral and physical health issues. These issues include a lack of attention, learning difficulties, increased aggression, brain and kidney damage, and more.
This makes the issue of lead in Charles County even more alarming given the fact that the airport is less than one mile away from J.C. Parks Elementary and Matthew Henson Middle schools, which are both majority black public schools.
These schools whose students are between the ages of 5 and 13 are the most vulnerable to the effect of lead. The lead particles come from piston-engine planes’ fuel exhaust, which emit lead particles in the air that can be breathed in by people in the vicinity of the plane.
The fact that lead particles are being put into the air is even more alarming given the fact that the Center for Disease Control has stated that the body absorbs higher levels of lead when breathed in. There is not only a concern about students, teachers and support staff breathing in lead but also absorbing it through the skin.
As the lead particles settle, they can attach to surfaces and then be touched. This increases their chances of not only coming in contact with high amounts of lead but also contracting lead poisoning.
The issue of planes and lead is not just a Charles County issue.
In Santa Clara County, California, the county Board of Supervisors voted to ban the sale of leaded fuel in August 2021, after a peer-reviewed study was released that linked the use of leaded fuel to Flint, Michigan, levels of lead exposure to the thousands of children living near the Reid-Hillview Airport.
On Jan. 8, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will review and evaluate whether piston-engine aircrafts that use leaded fuel contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare. SB 686, in the state Senate, would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to study and make recommendations on the environmental impacts of lead-based Maryland by aviation businesses.
While this legislation is a first and small step toward ending the use of leaded fuel, we cannot forget the medical impact of lead, especially to children.
The bill should expand to require the Maryland Department of Health to study the levels of lead in residents who live, work or go to school near aviation businesses that use lead-based fuel, test surfaces in buildings near such aviation businesses for lead particles, and make these findings public and easy to locate. The bill should also create a recommendation plan on reversing, mitigating health problems of people infected with lead poisoning, and how to end the spread of lead contamination.
Maryland must ban leaded fuel from being bought, sold or used at aviation businesses, as well as ban aviation businesses from allowing any aircraft from departing or landing in Maryland with leaded fuel in their tank.
Lead poisoning is a 100% preventable disease and can have lasting effects on a person’s physical and mental health.