Officials, Advocates to Discuss Lead Poisoning at April 24 Panel Discussion in Haverhill

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State Rep. Andy X. Vargas, journalist Dan Kennedy and health advocates will discuss the problems posed by lead during a panel discussion next week in Haverhill hosted by Lead Free MA.

Lead Free founder Andrea Watson, one of the speakers, left Flint, Mich. for Massachusetts after the 2016 water crisis. The city’s drinking water became tainted with lead, prompting then-President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency. Watson said she was personally affected.

“When you know, firsthand, what it can do to an adult, it beyond scares me to think what it can do to a child,” she said.

Even low levels of lead in the bloodstream can negatively affect “a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention and academic achievement,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tens of thousands of Flint residents were exposed to high levels of lead. Disease outbreaks from the insufficiently treated water killed 12. One in five may have experienced clinical depression in 2019 to 2020 and one in four post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2022 study looking at the long-term mental health impacts of the crisis. Watson said the panel is happening on the 10-year anniversary of Flint disastrously switching its water source to the Flint River.

Vargas was the primary sponsor on a bill advocating for lead pipe safety, which was referred to the Committee on Public Health about a year ago, but has not gone further through the legislature. He co-sponsored another bill focused on protecting children from lead poisoning, which public health referred to the Committee on Health Care Financing this past February.

Watson said, “He’s still pushing, and he’s talking to people about this — not just the lead pipe legislation — about it overall.”

Other panelists include Wanda Carolina Santos, vice president of community living for a center serving adults with disabilities, and Laura Spark, environmental health program director at Clean Water Action. “Clean Water Action has been on the forefront of this for decades,” Watson said.

Kennedy is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and advocates for local news in his new book, “What Works in Community News.” Local media, Watson explained, is essential to spreading important, timely and accurate information about public health in communities.

The event will be held at HC Media’s studio, 2 Merrimack St., Wednesday, April 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. It will be moderated by HC Media’s Engagement Manager Lindsay Paris, and Mayor Melinda E. Barrett will deliver opening remarks. Space is limited and tickets must be reserved in advance.

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