When parents decide where to raise their families, they take into consideration such factors as the quality of the local schools, safe neighborhoods and a nice community. By these standards Greenwich, Connecticut seems to be an ideal locale, but soil testing has unearthed a considerable environmental problem that threatens their children’s health and safety. Greenwich may have ranked #5 in Connecticut Magazine’s Rating the Towns 2013, but even a median home price of over $1.4 million can’t guarantee environmental health.
During periods of construction in the 1960s, ash from a local incinerator and/or the Cos Cob coal-fired power plant was used as fill. What probably seemed like a cost effective use for waste in a time before EPA regulations, has turned to a present-day environmental nightmare. Soil tests found the presence of polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, lead, chromium, and other heavy metals in areas that put children at elevated risk for exposure: the soil of playing fields, a park and a public housing complex.
Children are especially vulnerable to exposure to PCBs and other toxins in the soil because they are still growing. Their brains and nervous systems are still developing, so they are at a greater risk for neurological effects. Children playing in contaminated soil can be exposed to toxins through absorption or ingestion and the effects can be devastating.
The problems associated with PCB exposure for children include cancer, negative impacts on hearing and vision, irritation of throat, nose and digestive system and changes in liver function. Children exposed to arsenic can have damage to their skin and blood vessels, stomach and intestinal problems, and there is some evidence to suggest that long-term exposure may lower IQ scores. The effects of lead poisoning are well known and include developmental delays, learning disabilities and slowed growth in children and babies, and miscarriage or pre-term birth for pregnant women. Exposure to chromium can lead to cancer, respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive effects.
These soil tests provide a startling look at how decades-old toxins can make our their way into our children’s bodies today. Inaccurate and incomplete records complicate our ability to ensure our children’s safety and cloud our understanding of environmental risks in the areas where children are most likely to be exposed to toxins.
Families in Greenwich and surrounding communities need to demand action from their local government in the form of testing and remediation to clean up the PCBs, arsenic, lead, chromium and other toxins. As parents, we want the best for our children’s health and safety, so we need to stand up for them by making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely to improve to improve air quality and overall environmental health.
These toxins stay in the environment for a long time. In addition to testing and cleaning up old contamination, we need to stop polluting so we won’t leave a legacy of contamination for future generations.