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kept her and her daughter close to home. “It was Alyssa’s first year and we would play in the mud, and I never thought about it,” says Ramirez-Ammerman. That is, until stories on local television and in the El Paso Times began to describe how officials from the Environmental in central El Paso. They were searching for elevated levels of lead and arsenic. Any readings of more than 500 parts per million for lead and 20 parts per million for arsenic were cause for concern. The team focused its investigation within a few seemed to be in the clear. Then EPA officials contacted the Ammermans and asked if they could take soil samples outside the house. The results are dated December 4, 2002. In the backyard, the regulators found “acceptable” levels of lead but slightly elevated levels of arsenic. The results in the front yard were more alarming. Lead levels were 250 parts per million above the limit and arsenic was more than double the standard at 43 parts per million. A month later, the Ammermans took Alyssa to a military doctor for an arsenic test. The doctor did a full heavy Yvette and Alyssa Ammerman photo: Alan Pogue miles’ radius of one of El Paso’s signature landmarks, the old smokestacks from the ASARCO smelters, the last of which had been taken offline only a few years before. Just to be safe, Ramirez-Ammerman brought Alyssa in for a lead test. The then 1-year-old girl’s blood had 6 micrograms of lead per deciliter. Lead is so toxic that it’s measured by the amount of micrograms in a tenth of a liter of blood. The in 1991 that anything above 10 could be dangerous. Alyssa metals screening Alysa’s lead blood level had gone up to 8. Two months after that, it shot up to 15. Since the family’s brush with the toxic metals, RamirezAmmerman has educated herself about child lead poisoning through conversations with scientists in the field, government documents, and research on the Internet. She relates that many scientists believe the 15-year-old lead standard is set too high. Some studies have shown that there are harmful effects at 5 micrograms. Research has indicated that minor amounts 10/8/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5