Students to take part in ‘Mulch Madness,’ annual lead prevention event, Saturday in South Bend

Author: Erin Blasko

University of Notre Dame students will spread mulch around homes in South Bend’s Monroe Park neighborhood as part of “Mulch Madness,” an annual service event aimed at shielding local children from the risks of lead-tainted soil.

Organized by the Notre Dame Lead Innovation Team (ND-LIT) with critical support from Joshua Brooks, a senior finance major, and Kyle Moon, a junior neuroscience and behavior major, the one-day event will take place Saturday (April 17) in partnership with the Monroe Park Neighborhood Association.

Notre Dame Landscape Services will provide logistical support for the event.

Situated southeast of downtown, Monroe Park is among a number of areas of South Bend with elevated levels of lead, mostly due to older housing stock. Soil in these areas is often contaminated with lead from old house paint, posing a risk to children who play in it — especially young children who may inadvertently ingest the soil.

By encasing the soil, mulch helps to reduce access to it and contain its spread.

“We know that lead poisoning is devastating to childhood development,” said Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, director of the Master of Science in Global Health Program at the Eck Institute for Global Health, associate director for community health and policy with the Center for Civic Innovation and co-founder of ND-LIT. “Mulch Madness is an important event that simultaneously allows us to educate the community about how soil has become a source of lead exposure and how families can take steps to protect themselves. Our volunteers are talking directly with families and at the same time taking action to help families limit their exposure by mulching exposed soil. This is community engagement at its best.”

In preparation for the event, Brooks, Moon and about a dozen volunteers canvassed the neighborhood in late March, knocking on 99 doors. Thirty-nine people answered and 21 consented to participate in the event. Twenty received free lead screening kits from ND-LIT and 11 were screened for eligibility for lead-based home improvement grants. Homes where no one answered the door were left with educational flyers and consent forms.

“Through our Mulch Madness event, we have a larger goal than just mulching yards in Monroe Park. Not only are we going to be mitigating childhood lead exposure by laying fresh mulch over potentially leaded soil, but we are incorporating initiatives that will raise awareness and connect families with the resources necessary to prevent childhood lead poisoning,” said Brooks. 

“Many residents of St. Joseph County are either unaware of the true dangers of lead, or don’t have the time and resources to do anything about it,” he said. “We’re offering free lead screening to every home we reach, made possible by the incredible work the ND Lead Innovation Team has done to develop an easy-to-use screening kit. Additionally, we are providing applications to families eligible for a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant that provides a free home remediation of lead hazards.

“We are really trying to go the extra mile to make a true impact on the lives of families in Monroe Park.”

The neighborhood association is using email, social media and a newsletter to publicize the event. It is also organizing a spring cleanup around the event.

Mike Coman is president of the neighborhood association.

“Because we have old homes, there’s a lot of lead out there in the neighborhood,” said Coman, whose own home dates to the late 1800s. “So Notre Dame agreed, thankfully, to help us a little bit and try to abate and remediate some of the lead issues we have there.”

Coman moved to Monroe Park in 2002.

“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” he said, “well-integrated” and close to downtown, the river and parks.

“It’s a tremendously niche neighborhood of fairly well-to-do people and a sizable population of folks who fall below the poverty line,” he said.

Mulch Madness is usually part of Back the Bend, an annual service event organized by Notre Dame Student Government, but is a stand-alone event this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the first year that the event is taking place in Monroe Park, having targeted the area northwest of downtown in the past.

“I’m just so grateful that Notre Dame and the students there have been so committed and persistent and vigilant with this issue,” said Coman. “Despite the pandemic, they have said, ‘We’re still here and we’re still willing to come out and help you with your neighborhood.’”

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127, eblasko@nd.edu

Originally published by Erin Blasko at news.nd.edu on April 13, 2021.