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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2000

A nasty, risky job

The federal government's plan to put minorities and single mothers to work cleaning up brownfields is a gift horse that warrants a look in the mouth.

Recent lawsuits relate to the fact that dumps and chemically contaminated sites seem to be located in neighborhoods where poor people of a variety of ethnic persuasions live.

It perhaps seems a natural that, because they are most affected by the pollution though they had scant part in causing it, poor people without much education be involved in making their neighborhoods safe, and get paid for it in the process.

But brownfields can be riddled with chemicals that deform genes as well as cause disease. So one is hard put to understand not only the relatively low wages to be paid to people doing one of society's nastiest jobs - an average of $18,000 to $20,000 a year - but the skimpiness of the allocation for protective gear - a mere $100 worth.

In light of the beryllium scandal, it can't be enough. Provision must be made so workers don't carry pollutants home with them, on their clothes and shoes or on their bodies.

Some three dozen cities nationwide, including Toledo, are involved in this federally funded program. We'd feel a lot better if some groups - like the mayor's commission on minority health and agencies dealing with women's reproductive health, or perhaps Medical College of Ohio - were offering oversight.

It would be nice, too, if county, state, and federal health agencies were part of the deal and working proactively to assure the well being of these vulnerable low-income individuals.

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