The Natural Resources Department of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah has partnered with the US E.P.A. to create a comprehensive lead education, awareness, and assessment program that benefits both Tribal members, and the Island as a whole.
The Tribe offers a comprehensive slate of services to Tribal members, including educational outreach. The New England Tribes have worked with EPA to develop a variety of culturally appropriate booklets, DVDs, and games, and EPA has provided the Tribe with a variety of other materials. These materials teach proper precautions for avoiding harmful effects of lead exposure, including proper renovation techniques, housecleaning methods, and dietary tips.
The Tribe also offers Tribal members certified inspection of homes, blood screening, and dust, soil, and drinking water testing in our nationally accredited Wampanoag Environmental Laboratory. These services are particularly important as lead paint is often present in communities like Martha’s Vineyard, and Eastern Massachusetts generally, where much of the housing stock pre-dates 1978. Tribal members are also often avid hunters and fishermen, and many work in trades such as construction where lead exposure can occur.
But the Tribe’s lead education does not stop at Tribal borders. Recognizing that lead poisoning is an issue Island-wide, the Tribe has engaged in outreach to the wider community, distributing lead information through hardware and paint stores, including lead safety information at hunter safety courses, and organizing our very successful partnerships with the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and the Kid’s Trout Derby, which focus on direct exposure to lead through weights and ammunition.
Begun in the late 1990s, the Wampanoag Lead Program has focused primarily on educating Tribal members about the dangers of lead in the home. Lead exposure most often results from lead paint, which was banned in 1978 but which persists in older homes. Exposure to lead is particularly common when repairing, remodeling, or repainting an older home, or in homes with chipping or peeling paint. Lead exposure can also result from lead in plumbing, from fishing and hunting gear, even from contamination of clothing worn by someone exposed to lead at work. Recently, lead has also been found in many types of imported goods, such as plates, toys, and plastic items.
Lead is a potent toxin that can have a broad range of health effects even in small doses, particularly in small children whose bodies are still developing. There is no safe amount of lead. Health effects in children range from brain damage to behavioral and speech problems and learning disabilities. In adults, lead exposure can cause heart and kidney problems and high blood pressure, among many others.