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.
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.
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.
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.
Penalties levied against Connecticut companies for violations of occupational safety rules dropped by more than half between 2011 and 2015, and the number of cases with penalties fell by 40 percent in the same time period, according to a C-HIT analysis of federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) data. Data from the agency’s offices in Bridgeport and Hartford show initial penalties against Connecticut employers totaled $10.86 million in 2011 and dropped to $5.07 million in 2015. Companies were able to negotiate settlements, lowering penalty payments to $6.26 million in 2011, and $3.51 million in 2015. For the first nine months of 2016, the downward trends in cases and fines are continuing, the data show. Reasons for the declines vary: Government officials point to safer workplaces and more compliance with regulations.
The number of students suspended or expelled from schools has declined, as have in-school arrests, but minority students face disciplinary action more often than their white peers, according to a report released today by Connecticut Voices for Children. Between 2008 and 2013, in-school arrests dropped 34.8 percent statewide while expulsions declined 31 percent and out-of-school suspensions fell 46.5 percent, the report noted. The report, “Keeping Kids in Class: School Discipline in Connecticut, 2008-2013,” analyzed data provided by school districts statewide. While the drop in disciplinary actions is encouraging, Connecticut schools still have work to do, according to the advocacy group. “Extensive research shows that excluding children from school for disciplinary problems is often ineffective and even counterproductive.
Arrests in Connecticut schools dropped 13.5 percent from 2008 to 2011, but hundreds of the arrests made in 2011 were for minor policy violations such as throwing erasers, shouting, or leaving class without permission, a new report says. The report by Connecticut Voices for Children – the first comprehensive study of its kind in the state – also found significant racial disparities in arrest rates: Black students were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested than white students, and Hispanic students were 3.2 times more likely. “The overall number of arrests have declined, which is an encouraging trend,” said Sarah Esty, the report’s author and a former policy fellow of Voices for Children. “However, there remains a great deal of work to be done in terms of students being arrested for behaviors that likely could have been handled without police involvement . .
In Alexandria, Va., the rate of antidepressant use is the highest in the country, with a full 40 percent of residents receiving prescriptions. Cape Cod, Mass., tops the country in the use of stimulants, with 16 percent of the population filling at least one prescription, compared to a mean of 2.6 percent nationally. Gainsville, Fla., has the highest utilization rate of antipsychotics – 4.6 percent of residents, well above the national mean of .8 percent. Usage rates of the three classes of mental health medications vary widely across the U.S., with Connecticut in the middle, according to a new study by the Yale School of Management. The study found that much of the geographic variation could be explained by access to health care and pharmaceutical marketing efforts, rather than by the underlying prevalence rate of the psychiatric disorders.