Environmental and occupational health professor studying lead exposure in Northwest Indiana children

Health Sciences

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Ellen Wells, associate professor of environmental and occupational health in the School of Health Sciences, is studying children in North Lake County and East Chicago, Indiana who may have been exposed to lead in the soil.

Ellen Wells
Dr. Ellen Wells, associate professor in Purdue University School of Health Sciences, has spent much of her career studying exposure to metals

Dr. Wells’ study will focus on areas in Northwest Indiana affected by the USS Lead Superfund Site managed by EPA, and will be funded by a grant from Ralph W. and Grace M. Showalter Trust grants program at Purdue University.

Published scientific studies have long established a clear link between lead exposure in young, developing brains and lower IQ scores, attention deficit disorders and behavioral issues, Wells said.

This study goes a step further in that it considers the impact of cumulative exposures from multiple metals, including lead and arsenic, she said.

EPA’s allowable limits for lead in residential yards and drinking water are two examples, she said. Both standards, which are severely outdated, only consider singular exposure.


(Wells) felt compelled to put together a study that focuses on East Chicago children after learning of the dangerously high levels found in the soil in the EPA-designated USS Lead Superfund site.


Local, state and federal officials have long known about the polluted soil in the East Chicago neighborhoods, but only recently began addressing the issue with any sense of urgency.

Source: “Purdue researcher wins grants to study lead, arsenic exposure effects in children,” Northwest Indiana Times

Dr. Wells was named a Showalter Scholar last fall for her project, Metal contamination and children’s health in East Chicago,” which will be funded for five years in the amount of $75,000.

Parents interested in allowing their children to participate in the lead study should contact Ellen Wells at 765-494-6154. Compensation includes a $20 gift card for the parents and a small toy for the child.

EPA sign warns children not to play in the dirt or mulch  at West Calumet Housing Project in East Chicago, Indiana
An EPA sign warning residents not to play in the dirt or around the mulch is seen in summer 2016 at the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago. Jonathan Miano, Northwest Indiana Times

About Showalter Trust grants program

The Ralph W. and Grace M. Showalter Trust grants program was established in 1975 to support research in the priority areas of:

  • Environmental research, including air and water pollution research
  • Research in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology
  • Research in the area of disease prevention, diagnosis, progression, treatment and control
  • Research in the area of new technologies for food production, preservation, distribution and safety
  • Research in the area of medical and biophysical instrumentation, including the analysis of large data sets

The Trust also directs that no funds may be used to finance research in psychiatry, sociology, or social studies.

The researchers are selected in partnership with the university faculty scholars program. The Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships nominated university faculty scholars in consultation with academic units and the Office of the Provost, and an external committee make the final selections. This year, 11 early-career faculty members received up to $75,000 each in Showalter Trust funding.

“The Showalter Scholars are outstanding mid-career professors on an accelerated path to academic distinction whose research interests embrace areas supported by the Showalter Trust,” says Jeff Bolin, associate vice president for research. “Each of the honorees has demonstrated tremendous success in obtaining research funding, publishing their findings and collaborating with faculty members at Purdue and beyond to address critical questions within the life and health sciences.”

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