Today's Papers

Getting the Lead Out

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with, and the New York Times fronts, the Turkish government’s moves to accelerate earthquake clean-up efforts and answer rising criticism of its disjointed response to the disaster. The NYT goes with reports suggesting that states are doing a wildly uneven job of testing children on Medicaid for lead contamination.

The WP gives its Turkey coverage a human face, using extensive interviews with survivors and relatives of the dead to paint a macabre picture of the quake’s aftermath. It also reports that efforts by officials in Izmit, at the epicenter, to use the city’s skating rink as an overflow morgue turned disastrous when the power went out. “As hundreds of corpses lay in their body bags,” the paper reports, “the ice grew soft and watery, and a thick pungent mist rose from it.” The NYT focuses on the Turkish army’s sluggish mobilization in the days following the quake. As soldiers finally appeared in force Saturday, picking up garbage in an effort to stem the spread of disease, President Suleyman Demirel told Turks he understood their concerns over the low profile the army has taken thus far, but also cautioned citizens not to expect state forces to “work miracles.” The paper also says the governors of three damaged provinces will be fired because they failed to put together efficient rescue teams. The LAT zeroes in on Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s plan to commandeer private hearses, trucks, and construction equipment for the relief effort. And it cites U.N. officials who predict the death toll could pass 40,000.

According to the NYT, both General Accounting Office auditors and a special federal panel say most states are failing to comply with a 1989 law requiring lead screening for children on Medicaid. Data show that child Medicaid recipients–who often live in older housing with peeling lead-based paint or contaminated dust–are three times as likely as other kids to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. The worst offender? Washington state, where not even 1 percent of Medicaid children were tested. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 900,000 Americans between the ages of 1 and 5 carry enough lead to cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, or neurological damage.

The Post’s off-lead is a startling piece about the 1980 cancer death of Joseph Harding, a uranium worker at a government-owned Kentucky plant. A 1983 examination of Harding’s remains, prepared as part of a lawsuit but never published, indicated that even a dozen years after leaving his job his bones showed uranium levels up to 133 times higher than normal. Despite suffering stomach cancer, perforations in his lungs and fingernail-like growths on his palms, wrists, and shoulders, Harding was refused a disability pension; Energy Department officials maintained that Harding’s health problems were the result of smoking cigarettes and eating “country ham.” Harding claimed that a thick haze of uranium dust at the plant, operated until the mid-1980s by Union Carbide, covered workers’ skin and even their teeth.

The LAT fronts a detailed profile of Buford Furrow Jr., the man allegedly responsible for opening fire inside a Jewish community center and killing a Filipino-American mail carrier Aug. 10. It describes him as a bumbling loner who was largely invisible to classmates and co-workers and was consumed by periodic bouts of rage. The story says only in the white supremacist movement was he able to find a measure of acceptance.

The WP fronts a story about America Online’s controversial support for a proposed new road known as the “techway” that would connect the suburbs of Maryland to Northern Virginia. Residents along the corridor worry that the highway would open up huge areas of land for new development. Barb Emmons, a database manager and member of a local environmental group, tells the Post that as soon as residents heard that AOL was backing the project, “Our worst fears were realized.” This controversy is in contrast, the paper reports, to the situation on the West Coast, where high-tech companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard have pushed for public transportation improvements and measures to protect open space.

At press time, Hurricane Bret had not moved near enough the Texas coast to merit any front-page coverage, but its alarming increase in speed suggests it could grab big headlines by Monday. The WP reports on Page A2 that Bret’s strength may well match that of Hurricane Andrew, which pummeled Florida seven years ago with wind speeds as high as 145 mph, and predicts it will reach Texas late Sunday or early Monday.

In the New York Times Book Review, Frank Kermode is disdainful of a new biography of Princess Diana by Sally Bedell Smith that claims Lady Di suffered from “a borderline personality disorder.” According to Kermode, Smith employs a “laborious accumulation of detail” to back up her diagnosis that the late princess “was unpredictable, egocentric, aggressive, insecure, manipulative, paranoid, possessive, easily bored, uneducated and a habitual liar.” That’s not all–she also “steamed open other people’s letters.”