Graduate Student Ornella Joseph Speaks about Lead Test Kits for Walk the Walk Week

Author: Rebecca Hicks

Ornella Joseph
Ornella Joseph

Ornella Joseph, a fourth-year chemistry graduate student in the lab of Marya Lieberman, was a highlighted speaker at the “Research That Matters: Scholarship Advancing Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” event on January 23, 2023. This event was part of Walk the Walk Week, a week-long series of events coinciding with Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Sponsored by Graduate Student Life and the Graduate School, the Research That Matters event celebrated current ND graduate students whose research advances Dr. King’s dream of a more equitable world. Ornella was one of nine graduate student speakers from across campus.

Ornella is the Lead Screening Kit Lab Manager for the ND Lead Innovation Team (ND-LIT). Since 2016, ND-LIT has worked in St. Joseph County to identify and implement strategies to address the high levels of lead that are particularly prevalent in the southwest portion of the city of South Bend, an area with a high-percentage of minority residents. In Indiana, healthcare providers are required to offer lead testing to children 12-24 months of age, and if elevated lead levels are detected, the state provides a lead risk assessment using specialized personnel at a cost of roughly $500. However, this method only identifies those homes where children have already been poisoned by high lead levels.

The ND-LIT screening kits, on the other hand, are available to identify lead hazards in homes proactively, all for around $20. Residents collect soil, paint, and dust samples and return them for analysis. To date, nearly 900 kits have been distributed, with two-thirds of the returned kits indicating elevated levels of lead. Once identified, residents can work with the city or county to access federal funding designated for lead remediation.

Ornella was drawn to her lead-screening work due to her interest in community focused research aligned with Notre Dame’s mission to be a force for good. Ornella, a Catholic, is originally from Sri Lanka, where Christians are a small minority. Her work with ND-LIT allows her to put her faith into practice by pursuing improvement in the quality of life of those around her while simultaneously working towards her PhD degree.

For more information on Lead Screening Kits, or to request a kit, please visit