About Operation Paydirt
Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project is a national, artist-driven, multidisciplinary project with a critical mission: to support a solution to lead-contaminated soil in New Orleans and to help end this form of childhood lead poisoning. If lead poisoning leads to poor performance in the schools, learning disabilities, and juvenile delinquency, as all studies indicate, this project has the potential to counteract an environmental factor that contributes to undermining the health of society.
In New Orleans alone, thousands of properties have unsafe levels of lead in the soil. At least 30% of the inner city childhood population is affected from lead-poisoning. Lead-contaminated soil is an issue in every major U.S. city and contributes to the detrimental effects of lead-poisoning. The health of children across the nation is being threatened by the very ground they play on.
Operation Paydirt offers a scientifically-proven method to neutralize hazardous lead (Pb) so that it is no longer harmful and a citywide implementation strategy with the potential of creating a model for all cities facing a similar threat. The estimated cost to
treat New Orleans soil is $300,000,000.
The Fundred Dollar Bill Project supports Operation Paydirt by symbolically raising the $300,000,000 needed to create a lead-safe New Orleans!
See more on Operation Paydirt, click here.
Where Does the Lead Come From?
Although the use of lead is now limited, residual lead dust (primarily from gasoline and paint) contaminates soils and continues to be a significant public health problem in many cities. Lead particulates (airborne in dry seasons), flaking house paint, gasoline and other industrial emission all compromise the soil.
Even more lead facts, click here.
Why is Lead a Problem?
Children have a high sensitivity to lead and are at risk to blood poisoning due to exposure from playing in contaminated soils as well as through breathing airborne lead dust. There are serious consequences resulting from children exposed to lead-contaminated soil. Many studies indicate a direct connection between lead-poisoning and poor performance in the schools, learning disabilities, juvenile delinquency and violent crime.
For an in-depth report, see this article by Scientist Howard Mielke: Children's blood lead and standardized test performance response as indicators of neurotoxicity in metropolitan New Orleans schools.
For a one page summary and map of the correlations between soil lead, blood lead, and student achievement, see this report: Metal Toxicity in New Orleans: Soil Pb, Blood Pb and Student Achievement by 4th Graders.
A growing body of literature is detailing the societal costs of lead-poisoning. Lead poisoning is related to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders and the need for special education. The correlation between early lead-exposure to adult-onset health problems is proven. The financial impacts are evident when considering lifetime earning potential and the direct costs of crime and its related costs.
For information: see this brochure about Lead Poisoning Risks and Controls, created by the New Orleans Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
How did Hurricane Katrina affect Lead Contamination in New Orleans?
Howard Mielke, one of Operation Paydirt’s Scientific Advisors, has measured lead contamination and children’s blood lead levels for years before and after Hurricane Katrina. Prior to Katrina, Mielke and his team at the Tulane/Xavier Cetner for Bio-Environmental Research estimated that 86,000 properties exceeded the EPA safety threshold of 400 ppm of Pb in soil. This contributed to 30-50% of the inner city childhood population affected by lead poisoning.
Dr. Mielke’s recently published report, coauthored with Sammy Zahran of Colorado State University, demonstrates one ironic factor that came out of the floods of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Mielke says the hurricane allowed for a “natural, quasi-experiment” that could not have happened otherwise. Flooding brought in new sediments in certain areas, capping Pb contaminated soil on a small scale and reducing exposure. Declines in soil-Pb were matched by declines in children's blood-Pb in these areas, further evidencing the need for a comprehensive citywide solution and the relationship between soil and lead poisoning.
"What this study does is demonstrate at least that the possibility exists to reduce children's blood levels by addressing the soil," Meilke said. This is exactly what Operation Paydirt plans to do for New Orleans, and ultimately, every lead affected city.
How is Operation Paydirt Making a Difference?
Operation Paydirt was developed to address the problem of lead contaminated soil with a sustainable and economically viable method to neutralize hazardous lead contaminated soil in-situ as an alternative to traditional, more costly mitigation measures. Operation Paydirt expands upon a protocol currently used to successfully remediate highly polluted industrial and military sites. The Operation Paydirt methodology is being called Treat-Lock-Cover (TLC): Lead-contaminated soil will be treated with calcium phosphate, neutralized through the formation of complex minerals (pyromorphites) and then covered with three to six inches of clean sediments. Neutralized by calcium phosphate into stable mineral formations, lead is prevented from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
The Oakland, California Connection
The project is currently in collaboration with US EPA Region IX Emergency Response to implement Operation Paydirt’s protocol for mineral neutralization of lead found above tolerable thresholds in a residential neighborhood in Oakland, CA. With these demonstration sites, ultimately Operation Paydirt will develop a citywide implementation strategy.
As part of its implementation strategy, Operation Paydirt will deliver a plan that takes into account practical engineering, landscape design and community development to create lead-safe communities. This plan will be delivered to Congress along with the 300,000,000 Fundred Dollars. In the end, it will be up to Congress to support making New Orleans, and cities across the United States safe for children!
Do you want to meet the scientists behind Operation Paydirt?
Howard Mielke, PhD: Toxicologist/Urban Environmental expert Howard Mielke has been working on lead contamination issues for 30 years and has done extensive research in New Orleans. Dr. Mielke and Lead Lab conducted a pilot treatment on 25 properties in New Orleans for lead contamination and serendipitously noted significant drops in the blood lead levels of the children living there. His work with this project, ReCover, formed the basis for Operation Paydirt’s mission to make every single property in New Orleans, and across the country, lead-safe for the people.
Andrew Hunt, PhD: Dr. Andrew Hunt is a research scientist who has worked on environmental lead exposure in relation to pediatric lead poisoning for over 20 years. His work with phosphate amendment of lead contaminated soil in various field and laboratory trials is the basis for the Operation Paydirt protocol. He is currently teaching in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Texas at Arlington.