GENEVA — Tanya Calcorzi has lived on Geneva Street the past nine years.
Her rented house is within the so-called “contamination zone” of neighborhoods north and west of the former Geneva Foundry on Jackson Street, a source of airborne lead and arsenic soil contamination from 1868 to 1988.
She was one of about 40 people who attended a discussion at the Presbyterian Church Thursday sponsored by the Geneva Women’s Assembly.
“I’m on dialysis because of kidney failure. I have lupus and other illnesses, including degenerative disc and joint disease,” she said.
She’s not certain, but leans toward blaming her illnesses on lead and arsenic exposure in the soil of her current home and the four other homes in the contamination zone she’s lived in over the years.
“I’m unable to work. I’m disabled. My children have illnesses. Because I can’t work I can’t afford to move. I’m frustrated. I feel like my hands are tied and I’ve been thrown into the river,” she said.
She said her landlord hasn’t responded quickly to other requests she’s made for correcting problems, so she hasn’t asked him to make sure her soil is tested for lead and arsenic.
“I may have to ask for it myself,” she said, adding that the state’s promise to clean up the soil in July is too long to wait.
Calcorzi’s story was one of several shared at the meeting.
Others told of children with high lead levels and neurological and learning impairments they’ve experienced.
Many expressed anger that the state Department of Health tested a property close to the former Foundry, torn down in 2005, and found elevated lead and arsenic levels in 1985 and neither the city nor state warned people then so they could take precautions.
Instead, they said, they planted gardens, let their children play in the soil and exposed themselves to the contaminated soil in other ways the past 32 years.
Suggestions were made on how to avoid exposure to the soil until the soil is removed, disposed of and replaced this summer and beyond.
The group shared ideas for putting cover soil, mulch or sod over lawns and exposed soil, keeping shoes outside the house, washing hands often, washing children’s toys or leaving them inside.
Other points made by people include:
• Demand more soil testing, both within and outside the “zone.”
• Demand that people, especially young children, who live just outside and close to the zone be tested.
• Ask the city to push harder to get the state Department of Environmental Conservation contractors to begin the cleanup earlier than July.
• Somehow provide free health care for people in the zone who suspect contamination-related illnesses.
• Schedule a meeting between DEC officials and residents to air all concerns and get answers to questions.
• Consider a separate meeting, with a translator, for Spanish-speaking residents to make sure they fully understand the situation and can ask questions.
• Hold the city accountable for not telling people of the soil test results in the 1980s. One person suggested the city pay reparations or restitution to make it possible for people to buy vegetables because they can’t grow them in their own gardens, paying for the loss of property value when they try to sell and for health care costs not covered by insurance.
• Request the city either lower their assessment or reduce their tax bills, with some suggesting refusing to pay taxes until the cleanup is completed.
• The city should give residents vouchers to buy fresh produce from the city Farmer’s Market if they can’t grow their own food on their properties.
“People are scared of long-term neurological damage to them and their kids,” said one resident.
“People should not feel ashamed. They didn’t know because the city or state didn’t tell them,” said another.
“There’s a lot of anger, loss of trust and sadness at what’s happened here,” said a member of the Geneva Women’s Assembly.
One Geneva Street resident suggested calling David Chiusano of the DEC to schedule testing of their soil. She provided his telephone number.
The meeting began with Registered Nurse Teresa Shaffer of the Ontario County Health Department speaking on lead poisoning. Shaffer is the department’s lead poisoning prevention coordinator.
She told the group that once a child is lead poisoned, the neurologic impairment cannot be reversed. She said it takes the body about 36 days to remove lead from the blood stream and any lead remaining is retained in the teeth, bones and soft tissue.
”One- and 2-year-old children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning,” Shaffer said.
It is removed from the body through urination and bowel movements.
Early symptoms of lead poisoning are an uneasy stomach, poor appetite, weight loss, constipation, irritability, clumsiness and behavior changes.
Later symptoms are hearing loss, memory problems, a lower IQ, kidney problems, attention deficit disorder and autism and joint damage.
Shaffer said most children get lead in their bodies from lead-based paint common in older homes.
“There is no safe level. Lead does nothing good for a body,” she said.
In adults, Shaffer said, symptoms of lead poisoning are high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, memory or concentration problems, head aches, abdominal pain, mood disorders, reduced sperm count and miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births.