Lead Poisoning An Imminent ThreatFeb 8, 2002 | Durham Herald Sun Three years ago, the city of Durham won part of a federal grant to help alleviate lead poisoning among low-income children. Lead poisoning can lead to a loss of I.Q. and to growth problems, as well as to severe mental retardation and even death. The money was intended to educate and help homeowners and landlords pay for lead removal. Today, the $2.4 million grant is almost gone; hundreds of families remain on a waiting list; and the rates of lead poisoning are twice as high for Latinos and African Americans as for Anglos.
Is this something we should be worried about?
My wife and I became aware of this problem when the blood tests of our 2-year old daughter, Isabella, indicated that her lead levels had doubled since her last test six months ago. At this rate, we thought, she would soon reach 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood; the number at which children begin to be at risk.
We called the Durham County Health Department and were told that not only was there a huge waiting list but also in order to get financial assistance (a clean up can cost tens of thousands of dollars) my daughter needed to be already at risk. They did promptly come and assess our house. We knew we lived in an old house with plenty of lead paint cracking out around the windowsills, but we never imagined that the danger was so near and present. We even found traces in a beautiful handcrafted fruit bowl from Mexico and among our daughter's stuffed animals. We were fortunate to get help from my family in order to abate the problem. Many are not as lucky.
Given that lead poisoning is the number one environmental danger for children under 6 and that millions of children are poisoned every year, I was astounded to discover that testing is not mandatory. Since poisoned children show no outer symptoms until the damage has been done, I found this discovery particularly disturbing.
How can this be? What is the city government doing about it? And what about the Latino population?
The Durham Affordable Housing Coalition in conjunction with the city has been training Susan Perez-Travers to become the city's first full-fledged lead inspector. She has been conducting dozens of house visits and multiple educational workshops. Her findings so far do not bode well. Eighty percent of all Latino children she has surveyed fall within the risk level.
This is not a problem merely for Latinos. In Durham County only 35 percent of all children under Medicaid were tested in 2000, though the law mandates that all participants be tested. What about the other 65 percent? We need universal testing of all children under 6 for lead poisoning, and we need our local government to do something about it.