As scientists measure the prevalence of COVID-19 in the sludge flowing from New Haven sewage treatment plants, they’re also finding that our biological waste can tell them much more about our collective pathologies. Between March 19 and June 30, a group of scientists tested waste that had previously been used to detect COVID-19, looking for drugs and chemicals. The researchers found significant increases in three opioids, four antidepressants, and other chemicals in sludge from New Haven. The analysis, by scientists from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) and Yale University, offered the first glimpses of how the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders affected people’s behavior. It also underscored how important human waste can be as a resource for understanding public health and society’s habits.
During its Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, Common Ground High School’s Zoom meeting was disrupted by student trolling. To gain insight into the disruption, the Journalism Class at Common Ground interviewed Sharyn Lopez, the high school’s student engagement and out of school activity manager. “[Distance Learning] requires us to be our best selves, and this [meeting] was not a moment when we were our best selves,” Lopez said. “The focus was taken away. It became centered on the [disruptors] sense of entitlement.’’
It wasn’t until Bridgeport lead inspector Charles Tate stepped outside the house on Wood Avenue that he saw, immediately, where 2-year-old Rocio Valladares was being poisoned. The paint around a window at the back of the house was deteriorating. Beneath the window was Rocio’s favorite play area, a sloping basement door that was the perfect ramp for an energetic toddler. Next to the basement door was a patch of dirt where she loved to scratch with sticks. White chips of paint were visible in the dirt.
Joann Rubino brought her cell phone outside to the balcony and swept the camera around for a neighborhood panorama. The sky blazed a brilliant blue, the apartment buildings an unmistakable burnt sienna. But there wasn’t a soul in sight. “It’s a beautiful spring day, but I’m not leaving the house,” Rubino, 63, said via Facebook from her Italian home. On a typical day in Castel Morrone, a town of about 3,500 people an hour’s drive from Naples, Rubino might be strolling the streets, dropping in on friends and family, stopping at a bar for a coffee or at a pizzeria—living la dolce vita.
Residents took advantage of the sunny weather over the weekend to get out of their houses and enjoy the outdoors. In Edgewood Park in New Haven, there were people on bicycles and skateboards, people practicing yoga and playing cards in the sunshine, enjoying a reprieve from their coronavirus concerns and Gov. Ned Lamont’s increased restrictions, which begin today. Lamont on Sunday ordered that all “non-essential” workers stay home beginning at 8 tonight. Some “essential” operations, including health care providers, food stores, gas stations and pet stores, will remain open. For a complete list, go here.
A total of 1,665 Connecticut children under age 6 had lead poisoning in 2017, a drop of almost 17% from the year before and the largest one-year decrease in five years, according to a just-released report from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). But more children showed higher levels of the toxin in their blood than in 2016, the report says. In 2016, there were 105 children whose blood lead level was 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher, at least four times the measure at which they’re considered poisoned. In 2017, the number had risen to 120 children. DPH epidemiologist Tsui-Min Hung said the improved overall numbers were at least partially due to the department’s more aggressive prevention activities, which 42 local health departments took advantage of, as well a social media campaign.
Jose DeJesus pulls his silver minivan out of a parking lot in back of a row of historic houses on New Haven’s Congress Avenue. He points with pride to the flowers he planted around the lot. Then he grimly spins a commentary as he gives a tour of the surrounding Hill neighborhood. • There’s the John C. Daniels School, where parents are dropping off kids and where a man overdosed and died near a rear stairwell over the summer. • Across the street, there’s the APT Foundation clinic, where clients in recovery from opioid use come every morning for methadone.
On the west and east sides of narrow Black Rock Harbor in western Bridgeport, industry, school, recreation and sewage treatment converge. At the most inland tip are Santa Energy’s oil tanks. On the east side stretch asphalt runways at Pratt & Whitney’s test airport and a city landfill. On the west side stand O & G Industries sand and stone yard, an empty industrial building, a city landfill, a trash-to-energy plant, the regional aquaculture high school, a seaport, shops, a restaurant and sailing teams’ docks. Last on this list is the Bridgeport West Side Water Pollution Control Facility, the city’s largest sewage treatment plant, which began work this year on a 20-year plan to correct chronic overflows.
With Connecticut children testing positive for lead at consistently high numbers, and millions of dollars thrown at the problem with tepid results, lawmakers may finally be stepping up to seek an effective solution. The Banking Committee is considering a bill that would create a task force to study better ways to finance the removal of the toxin from thousands of homes around the state. The task force would also investigate how to enforce abatement measures, including rental property inspections, and look into increasing workforce training in the specialized process needed to remove lead. State Department of Public Health (DPH) numbers from 2015, the latest available, show more than 72,000 children under the age of 6 testing positive for some level of lead in their blood. More than 900 children were at levels two to four times the baseline at which a child is considered poisoned.
Nearly 1,400 new cases of lead-poisoned children under age 6 were reported in Connecticut in 2015, a slight drop from the year before, but more children showed higher levels of poisoning. A child whose blood test shows 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher is considered poisoned. The 2015 numbers show 98 new cases of children with lead levels of 20 micrograms or higher, four times the threshold number and a 32 percent jump from 2014. “We cannot, with any certainty, explain why this is the case,” said Krista M. Veneziano, coordinator of the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) Lead, Radon, and Healthy Homes Program, about the disproportionately larger numbers of higher toxicity. Exposure to lead can damage cognitive ability, including a measurable and irreversible loss in IQ points.