The lead poisoning urgency pushed Ottawa County Health Department employees Ramie Tirres and Susan Waldron (What a team they were) to do all they could to find children, test their lead levels and teach very young children what they could do for their own selves to reduce their lead exposures.
Thousands of Ottawa County children who are now grown men and women learned how to wash their hands to protect themselves from lead poisoning. They all sang a song as they washed with their very own bucket, towel and soap. These children learned to accept being "stung" by Lead-Free the Bee, when they got their blood tested for lead. Ramie was right in there with the bee antennas, working along Susan and the other nurses and educators who followed her. They went to Head Starts and Kindergartens and kept our children engaged in learning how to live in a superfund site and thrive.
The Ottawa County Health Department is facing cuts, like every other county and state agency, school and college. One of the ways to deal with those cuts is to reduce staff. Ramie and so many others have chosen to retire now to give younger employees the chance to keep their jobs at least for now. Our state will be lean and services many had come to count on will be gone. We will manage, but those left keeping the lights on and providing the services must wonder how they will be able to do it all without the institutional memories and people-skilled colleagues they will be losing. The Ottawa County Health Department will continue to provide important services and one of them will be to provide lead testing for children. They may not be able to go out to community events to find children like they once did, but blood lead testing will be available at the health department.
The only way to know if a child is lead poisoned is to do a blood lead test. It is important to remember that lead poisoning is preventable, and to prevent it we have to do everything we can to remove lead from our environment. Old lead paint in homes must be dealt with safely, best by those trained in the Renovate, Repair, Paint Program RRP and in the shadow of the Tar Creek Superfund site with legacy lead mining tailings, we call chat used commonly as gravel and fill for the last one hundred years, this stuff has got to be dug up and moved out.
The Ottawa County Health Department, the Indian Clinic, now known as Northeastern Tribal Health System, the Cherokee Volunteer Society members at Miami High School, LEAD Agency and the Tribal Efforts Against Lead lay health advisors, called Clanmothers and fathers worked together for a number of years to help educate our communities about lead poisoning and all the prevention techniques a family could do to protect their children. The efforts were successful and fewer and fewer children were found to be lead poisoned. To make sure those numbers stay down, we need to remind parents to get their children tested and their yards.
The real celebration is for the futures of so many children. The community never really said a great big thank you for all these people did, or even a big thank you for all the truck loads of contaminated soil that has been and continues to be hauled out of our neighborhoods by EPA and soon by DEQ. As an individual I am grateful for all that has been done. But I got the chance to thank Ramie for the enthusiasm she has shown throughout these years of helping our children live longer healthier lives before she walked out the door.