Dominican Republic Projects and Reports

Background

The former MetaloXsa (Metales y Oxido, S.A.)  Lead-Acid Battery Recycling facility occupied an approximately .45 hectare site on Calle Cabon (Cabon Street) in the residential neighborhood of Paraiso de Dios in Haina. This neighborhood is approximately 7 kilometers due west from the capital, Santo Domingo and just west of the bridge crossing the Haina River. The site is located on the point of a hill with a view of the Rio Haina and the main Port area, about 300 meters to the south. Paraiso de Dios is comprised of about 600 households, with perhaps 40 adjoining the perimeter of the former smelter.

The site and the surrounding area was the scene of extreme lead poisoning incident in the 1990s. In March 1997, 116 children were surveyed, and again in August 1997, 146 children were surveyed. Mean blood lead concentrations were 71 µg/dL (range: 9–234 µg/dL) in March and 32 µg/dL (range: 6–130 µg/dL) in August. The study revealed that at least 28% of the children required immediate treatment and 5% showed lead levels >79 µg/dL were at risk for severe neurologic sequelae at the time of the study. Residents reported that several children suffered seizures during the factory operational years.

Summary of Activity

A number of organizations conducted a range of interventions at the site focused on reducing blood lead levels in children through community education and nutritional supplements. Most notably New York-based Friends of Lead Free Children working jointly with the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) engaged in a number of activities through the early 2000s.

The site was initially brought to the attention of Blacksmith Institute in 2006 by the International Lead Management Center. At this time Blacksmith Institute began investigating the possibility of implementing remediation activities at the site. Meetings with the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and others revealed that a recalcitrant owner was unwilling to allow construction work. As an alternative, Blacksmith Institute conducted a broad community education campaign from 2006 to 2009 jointly with UASD, the municipal government of Haina and others. Blacksmith also continued pursuing the possibility of remediation activity at the site.

Blood testing in May 2009 revealed an average of 25 µg/dL (range 5->65 µg/dL) in those children tested. As no remediation work was conducted at the site before this time, this significant decline in Blood Lead Levels (BLLs) was most likely the result of the education measures undertaken.

In November 2009, MOE took ownership of the site through legal means. Blacksmith Institute and TerraGraphics Engineering (“TG,” Moscow, Idaho, USA) mobilized very quickly to begin remediation work that December. MOE construction crews implemented a TG remediation design with TG staff supervising the activity. The key elements of the implemented plan included transporting high-level waste to a new MetaloxSA (currently operating) facility which met strict regulatory standards, and entombing the rest of the material onsite. The area was then transformed into a park. The design and management of the plan were donated by TG (~USD 80,000). The construction work was funded by MOE (~USD 100,000), which was in turn recouped from MetaloxSA. A disagreement between TG and MOE following the remediation of the site prematurely ended the remediation plan. As a result no remediation activity was carried out in the community at this time. Blood testing conducted in May 2010 found an average BLL of 22.6 µg/dL (range 4->65 µg/dL) indicating no significant decrease in BLL from the site remediation alone.

In parallel with this activity, UASD and Blacksmith Institute leveraged funding (~USD 150,000) from the Inter-American Development Bank (BID) for a broader national effort to improve small businesses working with Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULABs). Of this amount, ~USD 80,000 was utilized by TG and private contractors to carry out remediation activity in the community. The key components of this work were the construction of Gambian basket walls to limit soil erosion, removal of highly contaminated waste, and covering of contaminated soils with a concrete layer. This work was implemented in August 2010. Blood tests taken in September of the same year found an average BLL of 12.6 µg/dL (range 4-46 µg/dL).

In 2014, Blacksmith visited the site with a physician from Mount Sinai School of Medicine to conduct a new round of blood testing. 83 new blood samples were taken. An average BLL of 6.15 was found (range <3.2 – 18.6).

Conclusions

Extensive environmental contamination from legacy battery smelting operations at Paraiso de Dios, Haina, Dominican Republic, resulted in dangerously high Blood Lead Levels (BLLs) in children. Community education campaigns implemented over a number of years likely resulted in a significant decrease in BLLs, however the most drastic decreases resulted from environmental remediation. BLLs have now decreased to acceptable levels in nearly all cases.

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