The community of Paraiso del Dios bordered a former used lead acid battery recovery operation in the port city of Haina near Santo Domingo. In 1997, several hundred children were surveyed and found to have a mean blood lead level (the concentration of lead in a person's body) of 71 µg/dL (range: 9-234 µg/dL); 28% of the children required immediate medical treatment. Residents reported that several children suffered seizures during the factory's operational years and continue to exhibit learning disabilities.
The factory closed in 2000 and a repository for waste materials was developed on-site. A retaining wall was constructed and ravines on the north side of the site were excavated and filled with waste. The site was then abandoned and was subject to extensive uncontrolled salvage activities. The concrete retaining wall was scavenged, releasing large amounts of buried waste into the community during rain events. The exposed wastes, exceeding 30% lead, were scavenged and sold as scrap. Highly contaminated materials were recycled and used as building material and fill in the adjacent community.
Children from the surrounding community accessed the industrial site on a daily basis. Most children were tracking soils from the site, exposing the rest of their families.
Children observe soil samplingSoil is a significant source of exposure to environmental contaminants for adults and children.
Portable "XRF" soil analyzerThe handheld x-ray fluorescent spectrometer (XRF) gives real-time heavy metal concentrations in soil and is a vital piece of testing equipment.
Child in Paraiso del DiosMore than 1 in 4 local children required emergency medical intervention due to lead poisoning.
TIFO conducted sampling in 2006-07, when the area was named one of the world's top ten most polluted sites. Extremely high lead concentrations were found on site and in adjacent residential lots. Contaminated wastes in the failed repository showed concentrations from 30% to 45% lead. Surface soil concentrations ranged from 4,000 to >300,000 mg/kg, orders of magnitude above the USEPA limit of 400 mg/kg. The team developed an intervention strategy recommending a blood lead monitoring and follow-up program, relocation of all high level wastes to an off-site repository, an on-site repository for the low-level and mid-level soils, and dedication of the property as a public park with appropriate institutional controls to ensure sustainability.
A blood lead monitoring program began in 2007 and found 80% >10 µg/dL, 24% >40 µg/dL, and 7% >70 µg/dL. (The US CDC "level of concern" for lead in a child's blood is 5 µg/dL.) In 2008, the Dominican Republic government commissioned a cleanup in which TIFO provided technical assistance. More than 3000 cubic meters of hazardous wastes and 4000 cubic meters of contaminated soils were removed. The site was turned in to an “ecological park” with a dedication ceremony in 2010. The Ministry of Environment introduced the park as the first step in initiating a cleanup program for the entire country and dedicated an “ecological mural” to the Dominican environment and “heroes” of the cleanup effort.
Journal Articles and Technical Reports
Kaul B, Sandhu RS, Depratt C, and Reyes F. 1999. Follow-Up Screening of Lead-Poisoned Children near an Auto Battery Recycling Plant, Haina, Dominican Republic. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(11), 917.