Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lead: A Nightmare on Your Street - Have You Checked the Children?

I love my life. I sometimes hate the weather in the summer, but every single day I learn something new. Some days it is something literary (Thoreau's Walden pond was located on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson -  how did I miss this the first time 'round?), some days it is something about baking (one can make biscuits and/or muffins and freeze them before baking - when it's time to serve them, simply pre-heat the oven and bake as usual), and some days it is about green living.

Though a Green blogging group and the resulting (inevitable) Facebook page, I was reminded today about how prevalent lead poisoning is among children. Still. Right now. In your neighborhood. Even more frightening? You cannot see lead dust.There is no way to know if your home, yard, and other places  are contaminated unless you have them tested.  (Thanks to Tamara Rubin for much of the info in this post!)

Today's at-risk population for lead poisoning contains a surprising a demographic - children of middle and upper income homeowners renovating "classic" (older construction) houses. Pediatricians don't routinely test all children for this increasingly common and preventable disease, supposing, as many of us do, that lead poisoning exists solely among poor children in sub-standard inner city housing. This stereotype is clearly outdated. With the ubiquity and levels of microscopic lead dust present in and around today's older buildings (our homes, schools, libraries, stores, etc. an incalculable number of sources), it is prudent that all children—including yours—be tested.

Lead poisoning does not discriminate but many healthcare providers do, a sort of reverse-discrimination. If you are not a low-income minority (or you belong to an HMO plan like Kaiser) it is very likely that your doctor has not considered testing your child for lead - either with a routine check up or in response to reported symptoms (headache, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.)   The medical establishment is under the common misconception that lead poisoning is a disease of the past and there is no longer a need to test for it.  They have not made the connection between new cases of lead poisoning and the further deterioration of a home stock. Think about it - homes are now 30 years older than they were in 1978 when the lead paint ban was first put into effect, and these homes now have deteriorating lead paint for the first time.These aren't inner city tenements - these are suburban dream homes.

Tamara Rubin has been a lead poisoning prevention and awareness advocate since her children were poisoned by the work of a painting contractor in Portland, Oregon in 2005.  The contractor used un-contained pressure washing, dry scraping and open flame torch burning to prepare the exterior of our home for painting. He assured her these methods were safe. She later learned that not only were the methods not safe but they are all illegal on both a State and Federal level (along with dry sanding/ power sanding.)

She now has a website, called My Children Have Lead Poisoning, a foundation (Lead Safe America) and a movie in production. Her site is quickly becoming a comprehensive resource for parents, teachers, pediatricians, contractors and others impacted by this problem in their work and daily life.

It's ironic, and a bit scary, that here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage our kids are sometimes just as likely to be exposed to lead as kids in cities. We do a lot of building demolition and often re-use old windows and lumber. Some parts of our soil have tested positive for lead. Once we became aware of the problem and what was causing it, we drastically changed our behavior and became far more choosy about what wood and windows we reclaimed.

A few of the things I learned by scrolling through Tamara's website:
  1. Lead paint is everywhere. Everywhere. Especially for folks interested in DIY, who value re-use over purchasing new, and who seek to utilize all parts of something before sending it to the land fill. Fro example: those really cool "barn wood" picture frames and old windows reused as cold frames in gardens? If they have crackled white paint and are not reproductions, chances are 
  2. Most cases of childhood lead poisoning are caused by contaminated soil and house dust.  
  3. Lead in water sources (pipes and fixtures) is another significant source of concern. 
  4. The City of Portland Lead Hazard Control Program can grant up to $15,000 to take care of lead hazards in a home where a young child spends 60 hours or more a year. Maybe your city also has a grant program.
I hope that this post feels helpful and not doomsdayish. It's just the thought of children at risk makes me nuts.

Sigh. Go hug your kids. And test for lead (click here for a link to Consumer Reports' evaluation of Lead Testing kits.)

LATE BREAKING ANNOUNCEMENT:  Just heard from Tamara who said that if you'd like a free lead-check test kit (donated to her by the manufacturer) you can just e-mail her: leadsafe AT me DOT com - She has the ones with 8 swabs that normally cost $27.95 ones.