Utica College student Lana Nitti gave a TED talk on the lead poisoning that is plaguing Utica, New York at the TEDxUtica event on Sept. 11. Nitti was one of eight speakers who spoke on various issues and opportunities in our society.
Lana Nitti, a first-year transfer student at UC, discovered Utica’s lead poisoning problem after reading an award-winning investigative report from USA Today called “Ghost Factories”. This report details the societal impact of previously unknown lead smelters in the United States. During her research, Nitti discovered that Utica has its own lead smelter that had not previously been examined. Nitti also discovered that lead was still present at this site and became aware of the health issues that come with lead exposure.
During her presentation, Nitti revealed that the Utica neighborhoods of Cornhill and West Utica, which Nitti refers to as the “red zone”, are hit the hardest by instances of lead poisoning. Currently, 40 percent of Utica’s population lives in these neighborhoods and are traditionally known as being impoverished communities.
Utica is one of the most impoverished areas of New York with more instances of renting, decreased access to health care, and unhealthy diets. Nitti said these three facts greatly increase a child’s case of getting lead poisoning. However, Nitti said the No. 1 factor shared by children who are exposed to lead is race.
“As a low-income person of color, this issue really just hits home for me,” Nitti said. “I have lived in Cornhill since I first moved to Utica. These are my neighbors being impacted by this issue, my peers. I have friends with small children, and it pains me to think of them potentially suffering from lead exposure.”
During her presentation, Nitti revealed that poor people of color are three times more likely to be diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels than their poor, white counterparts.
Nitti’s presentation was a part of an overall theme for the TEDxUtica event – 1Square Block. The theme emphasizes that an individual or idea can start on a small scale but create great change in a community. Other topics presented at the event included animal rights, permaculture design, the rebranding of Utica and more.
Earlier this year, people were invited to apply for a slot at this event. “As a student at MVCC, I had given several presentations on campus strictly on the scientific aspects of my research,” Nitti said. “One of the organizers for TEDxUtica actually works at MVCC, and she saw me speak. Afterward, she approached me and said, ‘You have something important to say, and you know how to talk to people. You should apply to be a TEDx speaker.’ So I did!”
Nitti then submitted a written proposal for her topic before being chosen for the next round of submissions. She then has to submit a five-minute video that outlined her talk and gave organizers a sense of her speaking abilities. “When I finally heard back from them and learned that I was a part of the official lineup I was thrilled to have the opportunity to use this platform to thrust this important public health issue to the forefront of the discussion on the redevelopment of Utica,” Nitti said.
Now that her presentation is done, Nitti is looking to start an organization on campus and in the community to help combat this lead problem. Nitti emphasizes that this problem cannot be solved alone. After the event, she was approached by many local community leaders about getting involved with her project and was offered the chance to meet with the offices of the City Planner and the Mayor to discuss her plan. Nitti urges anyone who wants to get involved with her cleaning-up-the-lead problem in Utica to email her or contact her on social media with the handle @LanaLead.
Photo: Lana Nitti presenting her research on Utica’s lead poisoning at TEDxUtica Talk. Photo by Cassaundra Baber