Lead Awareness and Populations at Risk

Four people sitting around chatting

Our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee routinely hosts educational opportunities (webinars, roundtables, open forum discussions, etc.) on topics that are both broad societal concerns and those that are more specific to the civil engineering industry.

Last month, the IDEA Committee, in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, offered a webinar on lead awareness. Fuss & O’Neill provides hazardous building materials consulting services, which includes conducting field investigations to determine the existence of lead and lead-based paint and providing the remediation and abatement solutions to remove this toxin from public spaces.

More than 50 Fuss & O’Neill employees from all different business lines attended this webinar, which was co-hosted by Kim Ploszaj (Supervising Environmental Analyst, CT DPH), Dr. Victoria Verlezza (Employee Experience Manager, Fuss & O’Neill), and me, Kathleen Pane (Associate in the Buildings and Hazardous Materials Business Line, Fuss & O’Neill). I have almost 25 years of experience conducting, overseeing, coordinating, and reviewing the technical quality of hazardous building material projects. A lot of my work has been investigating for lead and working with families, housing authorities, regulators, developers, and private clients to make spaces safer and people healthier.

As shared in the webinar, lead poisoning disproportionately affects certain races and ethnicities 

This led to a discussion about how to best serve those we are trying to help. Three key takeaways from this seminar are:

  1. Have sensitivity to the residents of the spaces we work in. Lead is more commonly found in rental spaces and dwellings in lower-income areas. Some of these residences may be households of undocumented or under-documented individuals of families, and there may be trust issues based on previous experience with government officials or landlords. So talking on an equal level, being respectful and informative as we work, and thinking about what the other person is going through are things that should always be part of our approach.
  2. Community events prior to investigations are a great way to make people comfortable and share information. Bringing the equipment and materials to show and explain, as well as allowing community members to ask questions, are great ways to ensure that accurate information is being communicated and can dispel unease. This also establishes trust.
  3. Think about cultural differences, traditions, and varieties of languages. Examples were shared of cooking materials with religious affiliations, family heirlooms from around the world, and things passed through generations that have sentimental value. These items, if they contain toxins, will be much harder to convince owners to remove from use and remove from homes. Additionally, effective communication is a combination of accessibility and method. It is important to know the preferred language of the person with whom you are communicating, and it is important to know how to present information. Education levels vary, there may be disabilities to consider, and people process information differently. So having options is important.

Removing hazards and protecting public health are the desired outcomes of our work. This webinar and discussion will improve our ability to do just that. I also think these key takeaways speak to larger themes that can be applied to many occupations and fields of work, so I hope that you also find these concepts valuable.

About the Author

Kathleen Pane has extensive experience conducting, overseeing, coordinating, and reviewing the technical quality of various environmental investigations and assessments. Projects include hazardous material inspections and designs involving asbestos, lead-based paint, PCBs, indoor air quality, industrial hygiene, and Phase I, II, and III environmental site assessments. She has also worked on numerous demolition, renovation, and redevelopment projects.

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