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Cuyahoga County Childhood Lead Prevention Program
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U.S. EPA – How to Reduce Risks of Lead in Drinking Water
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Toni Jennings and her son Javon in the Cleveland home. Doctors diagnosed Javon with lead-poisoning about a year ago
Old factory sites near Jenning’s home may have contributed to Javon’s lead exposure. Lead dust in the soil is tracked into homes, where children can pick it up
Dr. Lawrence Quang is head of the Cleveland Poison Control Center and a physician at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He’s been treating Javon for the past year
There are many sources of lead in homes. The most common on homes built before 1978 is peeling lead-based paint, especially around windows. The paint can contaminate soil around the foundation
Pressure points around places like doorways are another area of concern, either inside or out
Older brass pipe fittings contain lead that can leach into drinking water. Many older homes still have lead pipes leading to lines in the street. But experts say running the cold tap for two minutes can eliminate most potential lead hazards in the water

Potential Lead Hazard Sources:

Source: U.S. EPA

Cleveland is one of the top three cities in the nation for the highest incidence of childhood lead-poisoning. Over the past decade, elimination of the sources of lead has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of new cases, but health officials say the challenge now is to clean-up pathways of exposure, one house at a time. Officials are hoping widespread public education will help raise awareness of the problem and prevent exposure before it can occur.

WKSU's Karen Schaefer reports:

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TONI JENNINGS: "My name is Toni Jennings and my son is Javon. He's two years old and he has lead-poisoning."

Twenty-three year old Toni Jennings lives with her mother and son in a house in an older neighborhood on Cleveland's east side. When her son Javon was about a year old, a social agency suggested she get his blood lead level checked. She had no idea there might be anything wrong.

JENNINGS: He was the same. His appetite was the same. Nothing changed. We never knew. I didn't even know there was this thing called lead dust.

Jennings is not alone. The hazards to children from eating lead paint chips have been well-publicized. The paint industry was forced to stop making lead paint in 1978. But lead can also show up in soil and dust, a legacy of leaded gasoline that wasn't completely phased out until 1996. Industry has also played a role. Toni Jennings' 1930's-era home is well-maintained, but it's in a neighborhood that borders on a former steel plant. When her son's blood tests came back, it was clear his lead levels were dangerously high.

JENNINGS: When I first heard that, I said, how did he get lead-poisoning? And when he went to the hospital, they did x-rays on his stomach, so they didn't find any paint chips, so they said it came from dust. We're surrounded by a lot of old factories around here.you know, dust is airborne and everything, so I guess it got into his system and his lead was about 83, 84.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard says anything above 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood can lead to permanent health impacts. At a reading of 84, Javon's IQ and mental development were at risk. Jennings and her son were referred to Dr. Lawrence Quang, head of the Cleveland Poison Control Center and a physician at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. Dr. Quang, who trained in toxicology at Boston's Children's Hospital, specializes in treating children with lead poisoning. He says it's not easy getting the lead out.

DR. QUANG: The first and most important thing is to get them out of the environment that's responsible for the lead-poisoning.So that often requires hospitalization and we treat them while they're in the hospital.

Dr. Quang has been treating Javon for the last year. He's been in the hospital three times for five day-periods, receiving drugs through an IV that are gradually washing the lead out of his system. He also takes lots of vitamins and follows a special diet. Today Javon's blood lead level is about 24, still more than twice the current standard for lead-poisoning. Dr. Quang says he'll stop treatment once it drops below 20, but the impacts will be permanent.

QUANG: Lead produces early, as well as lifelong learning disabilities, aggression, hyperactivity. We unfortunately see developmental language disabilities. I've seen children of three who only speak two words. We also have data that shows for every ten points of lead in your body, you have a detriment of one IQ point.

Each year in greater Cleveland, nearly three-thousand children are diagnosed with lead-poisoning. Even so, that number represents real progress. Terry Allen, head of Cuyahoga County's Health Department, says ten years nearly a quarter of all kids in East Cleveland tested positive for lead. Today that rate is about 11-percent. For the last several years Allen has been working closely with Matt Carroll, chief of Cleveland's public health. Armed with a three-year, one-million dollar planning grant from the St. Luke Foundation they helped form the Greater Cleveland Lead Advisory Council - a group of more than 60 local health, housing, and environmental organizations. Together they've created a lead elimination plan based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

ALLEN: We're at the point now where we have a huge amount of community momentum behind this issue and a huge community investment, locally, as well as federal dollars and interest at the state level, where we believe we have a real opportunity to begin to drive those rates down below that 10-percent level.

The approach is two-pronged. First, with help from a state law passed in 2004, health officials are targeting high-risk families and neighborhoods, making sure children are tested. That's where the bulk of intervention resources go, from federal housing dollars to repaint and clean-up low-income homes to county-funded home visits to new mothers. Second, but equally important, is education and awareness. Cleveland health director Matt Carroll says a new city ordinance helps landlords and housing inspectors understand what's at stake. And parents, too, have a role to play.

CARROLL: Super-cleaning activities, because the risk from lead-poisoning is often dust.and then what we've done in some of our cases, our pilot interventions, is to provide HEPA vacuums to families which allow you to do a better job of keeping the home clean and eliminating the lead dust.

Costs can range from a few dollars for a mat by the door to wipe the dust off your shoes to as much as 7-thousand dollars for a new paint job. Stu Greenberg, director of Environmental Health Watch, a Cleveland education and advocacy group, believes lead-poisoning disproportionately affects the poor. He views it as an environmental justice issue whose costs should be shared between homeowners and landlords, government, and industry.

GREENBERG: I think that's why it's important to pursue the lawsuits against the lead paint companies. I think the paint companies have for a long time tried to manufacture doubt about the dangers of lead and its impacts on children.

In a recent Vermont case, paint companies argued that maintenance, not lead paint, was the key issue. Greenberg admits that any settlement from paint company lawsuits may be a long time in coming. In the meantime, there's growing evidence that lead-poisoning can occur at levels half the current standard. Greenberg says that would put many more child at risk, not just kids in inner cities, but also those in wealthier suburbs where home renovations are taking place.

GREENBERG: Maybe four, five times as many children will be recognized as being hurt by lead. I think there's going be tremendous resistance to that, in part because of the lawsuits against the paint manufacturers. Because if there is a settlement, then the class of children that were impacted becomes very much larger. So it's a multi-billion dollar question.

As for Toni Jennings and Javon, she cleans her home and her son's toys daily, cooks him special meals, and is hoping for the best.

JENNINGS: The only thing that concerns me is his speech, because he's not making full sentences like a normal two-year old should...So they said it could affect his brain and it could affect the way he grows and the way he learns.

I'm Karen Schaefer, 89-7, WKSU.

Listener Comments:

Do not enough money to buy a building? Do not worry, because that's possible to take the personal loans to work out all the problems. Thus get a secured loan to buy all you require.

Posted by: ShelleyDoyle US (US) on July 22, 2011 6:15AM

Posted by: baker, mufin florida (florida) on December 1, 2010 10:14AM
Dear Sarah's Mom, Thank you so much for sharing your story. One thing your story points up is that lead-poisoning is for life. Worse, it's now affecting kids like your daughter who live in 'good' neighborhoods where families are renovating older homes, not realizing that lead dust from old paint can be ingested by their young children. Fortunately in Cleveland, there is now a housing website where low-income residents can choose apartments that have been certified lead-free. It's called housingcleveland.org. http://housingcleveland.org/types_of_rental_housing.htm. I hope you've been able to find safer housing in Chicago and have found programs like Head Start that can help your daughter catch up. Karen Schaefer Reporter WKSU Kent, Ohio

Posted by: Karen Schaefer Kent, Ohio (Kent, Ohio) on August 15, 2008 1:13PM
My daughter was diagnosed with lead poisoning in 1998, she was two years old. her lead level was 204- two hundred and four. the cause, eating paint chips off of the rear porch. the slumlord that owned the building at the time could have cared less, didn't even bother asking me if she was ok. i have taken legal action against him and after all of these years it's almost down to the wire. his defense? he has none i'm a "bad mother" moved out of there and right into another lead ridden home. more time and effort needs to be focused on lead poisoning and these slumlords need to be cracked down on. you pay them rent so they can become richer, the least they can do is maintain their building. my daughter has suffered a lifetime and will continue to suffer the effects of lead poisoning while these slumlords line their pockets.

Posted by: Sarah's Mom Chicago, illinois. (Chicago, illinois.) on August 14, 2008 10:28PM
The City of Cleveland's annual free exterior paint program will begin in a few weeks, offering income-eligible residents an opportunity to paint their homes. This program is conducted via the city's community development corporations. What guarantee do we have that these homes -- most built before 1978 -- are being scraped and re-painted using lead-safe practices? Some CDCs are said to do a great job at monitoring work so children are not exposed to paint chips, which they can ingest. Others, I am told, simply distribute brochures to homeowners (tenants can also apply)

Posted by: Grant Billingsley Twinsburg (Twinsburg) on April 13, 2007 3:42PM

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