When Null and the scientists he brought in tested 147 of Haina's kids in the spring of 1997, 91 percent of them had lead poisoning. The average blood level was 71, and one kid had 247.
''My son's fingernails turned purple and he started having seizures,'' said Elicia Fortuna, whose 12-year-old son Robinson was among the most contaminated. ``He can't keep still. He knows something one moment, and then he just forgets.''
Like other children, he is given vitamin supplements to keep his lead level in check.
''Of the 20 worst children, about half can't go to school today because of permanent brain damage,'' said Conrado Depratt, a chemistry professor at Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. ``Their IQs dropped to the floor. Those are irreversible damages. In the United States, people would be behind bars.''
Activist Sandra Castillo, whose son was hospitalized with seizures, got enough community support to force Metaloxa to move away in 1997. Two years later, the batteries were gathered and buried, and the owners put up a metal door to keep people out.
''We have never taken an irresponsible attitude,'' said company vice president Juan Arturo Biaggi. ``When we started in 1979, nobody lived there, and there were at least five other battery recyclers and a gasoline refinery. But they want to throw the entire town's problems at us.''
Once the smelter moved and the batteries were buried, kids' lead levels dropped dramatically, but they were still about triple what they should have been.
Then rains came and a cement wall around the buried batteries crumbled, leaving an open path for the debris to slide downhill. Then scavengers came and dug up the metals worth selling.
The Blacksmith Institute learned of the town, did follow-up tests and found soil levels of 463,970 parts per million. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits are 400.
'They thought, `it's closed, they moved out, problem solved,' '' Caravanos said. ``But what was left was contaminated land. I've never seen a community with such high soil levels. It was striking.''
Deputy Secretary of Environmental Affairs Zoila González said she does not know why the site has not been cleaned 10 years later, because the government environment ministry was not created until six years ago.
The government, she said, forced Metaloxa to move and then last year shut down its new locale, as well.
''Blacksmith's list gives the impression nothing has been done, but it has been a worry for some time,'' González said. ``It may not be as fast as we want. We don't have the money the United States or Europe may have, but we have been doing the work.''
Environmental prosecutor William Lara said he expects to file criminal and civil charges against the company soon but is waiting for environmental reports.
Biaggi doubts he can pay the estimated $2 to $4 million for cleanup and monitoring, but he has already lined up a company to excavate the site.
''I have been waiting for a report with the solution and what part we have to contribute,'' Biaggi said. ``And then I don't hear from them.''
In the meantime, children like cross-eyed Rubi Romero, 2 years old and born some eight years after Metaloxa closed, has a lead level double what the CDC considers safe.
After a series of meetings last week, including with the Minister of Environment, Blacksmith president Richard Fuller said all sides have agreed to a remediation plan.
''The damage to these kids is permanent,'' Fuller said, adding that funding has been secured. ``Thousands of kids, thousands, all of them, their parents, and all the kids being conceived are poisoned.
``But it will get cleaned up.''