Dominican children in toxic mess

Children in a town of Dominican Republic pay heavy price due to lead exposure.

    Scientists who have tested the soil have said that in
    some areas pure lead makes up 50 per cent of the soil
    More than 91 per cent of children in Haina, Dominican Republic, have elevated blood lead levels. The average is 23 times the maximum recommended concentration.


    The source of the poison is a dismantled lead battery recycling plant, shut down more than a decade ago, but never cleaned up.


    Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds visited the children to see how exposure to lead has weighed heavily on the children's lives.

    Old batteries and lead waste have been dumped in a pit and simply left explosed for years.


    Benvenida Bautist, a school teacher, said: "We have cases of 12, 13 year old kids who still don’t know how to read and write.


    "The damage is irreversible. The ones that are brain damaged can’t be treated. They learn nothing."
    The poison is lead, a potent neuro-toxin that damages the brain and destroys the children's ability to learn.


    Exclusive report

    Watch Al Jazeera's exclusive report about Haina's children

    Sandra Castillo is a mother of three who lives next door to the smelter site, and a determined community activist who has spent 13 years pressuring the government to take action.


    "It wasn't until my own children showed signs of lead poisoning that they told me what was really going on," she said.


    Conrado Depratt of the University of Santo Domingo spent years trying to get the toxic mess cleaned up. "We are standing here in the most contaminated place in the world," he said.


    Depratt said the Dominican government has done nothing to remedy the situation.


    "Only words, only promises and nobody does anything," he said.


    Deadly playground


    Neighbourhood children journey into the waste-site to play, breaching the walls around the site without difficulty.


    The learning ability of many children has been
    affected by lead neuro-toxins
    "I got sick… my head hurt," one boy playing in the smelter site said.


    Scientists who have tested the soil have said that in some areas pure lead makes up 50 per cent of the soil – areas in which the children play together.


    Castillo's struggle to make the government clean up the neighbourhood has taken a heavy toll. Her health has suffered and she says she's been threatened


    "I'm not doing well. This fight has taken a lot out of me. The only thing I want is that we and the children have a better quality of life, that they get rid of the toxins and clean the town."


    For many children, it is already too late. Without urgent action, another generation of minds may soon wither away.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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